FUN FACTS AND PHOTOS ABOUT ENGLEWOOD AREA HISTORY
(FROM OUR CURRENT EXHIBIT: "RANCHES TO HOUSES") --
A LEGENDARY HOSTESS
Bertha Honoré Palmer was renowned for her hospitality. Throughout the late 1800s she hosted American presidents, royalty and important people from many walks of life. In 1891, her fame grew to an international level. She contributed her charm and intelligence to the planning of a World’s Fair in Chicago to commemorate the four hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America: The Columbian Exposition.
A NEWSPAPER AD
Bertha’s husband, department store tycoon Potter Palmer, best known for the famed Palmer House hotel in Chicago died in 1902 and left his wife a hefty inheritance of $8 million. After seeing an advertisement about the Sarasota Bay area in the newspaper, Bertha first came to Sarasota in 1910. She fell in love with the area and declared it was “The most beautiful place in Florida.”
SARASOTA COUNTY WOULD NEVER BE THE SAME
Bertha Palmer’s impressions of Southwest Florida were published throughout the country, causing a local real estate boom. She bought over 80,000 acres in the Sarasota area. She became involved in agriculture, livestock, real estate, banking and tourism. Her social standing helped put the community of 840 people on the map, and once she put down roots, Sarasota would never be the same.
MEADOW SWEET PASTURES
One day after Bertha had bought up all the best land Sarasota had to offer, her real estate friend Arthur B. Edwards brought her in his horse-drawn buggy all the way out to a ridge that overlooked the Myakka River. She fell in love with the beauty of the spot and wanted to buy it. Edwards told her it was part of a cattle ranch owned by “Dink” Murphy. She declared that if he would sell her the ranch, she would buy up all his cattle too! An agreement was reached and she promptly wrote out a check for $93,000. This is how Mrs. Palmer became a cattle rancher.
Bertha called her ranch “Meadow Sweet Pastures.” She added to her herd by bringing in 1,000 cattle by rail from Texas and importing 17 Brahma bulls. Brahmas are heat tolerant and insect resistant. By 1917, the entire tract supported 2,200 head of range cattle, sixty grade Hereford, Angus, and Brahman bulls in fenced pastures. Mrs. Palmer’s fences broke the tradition of open ranges free to all cattlemen, and prompted episodes of night riders and wire cutters. Meadow Sweet was equipped with mules, a Chicago-built International Harvester gasoline tractor, a road grader, wagons, harnesses, harrows, two feeding pens, scales, two stables, four homes, and a silo.
Because the Hereford bulls Mrs. Palmer brought in all died of cattle tick fever, she was one of the first ranchers in the state to use large concrete vats where the animals were “dipped” in medicines and insect repellants to eliminate the ticks. Her pioneering preventative measure became mandatory by 1932, part of a statewide cattle dipping program funded by federal and state funds. Florida would be declared free of cattle ticks in the 1940s.
Palmer corresponded with state agricultural agencies and university agricultural departments and launched pasture improvement programs. In addition to the ranch, she had 1,300 acres of citrus groves and produced honey. Her experimental farms had crops that included celery and watermelon.
“THE OAKS” at SPANISH POINT
At one point Bertha owned about one third of Sarasota County. She built a house (no longer standing) on her 350-acre estate at Spanish Point and named it “The Oaks.” The Palmer estate featured its own electrical plant and water system and had citrus groves, livestock and poultry sheds. Today Mrs. Palmer’s “Oaks” legacy lives on. A bay-front sub-division in Osprey has been named “The Oaks.”
Bertha Honoré Palmer died of breast cancer in 1918, only eight years after that first visit to Sarasota. She left her vast estate in the hands of her two sons, Honoré and Potter Palmer, Jr. and her brother Adrian C. Honoré.
MYAKKA RIVER STATE PARK
In 1934 Mrs. Palmer’s real estate friend Arthur B. Edwards negotiated the purchase of Meadow Sweet Pastures from the Palmer estate along with a land donation in the memory of Bertha Palmer to help create Myakka River State Park. The State of Florida bought the ranch, adding to 12,000 acres of surrounding forest reserve already state-owned. Afterward, the state gradually took in more land until the park in its present site was opened to the public in 1942.
Myakka River State Park, a 29,000-acre nature reserve and wildlife refuge, is a microcosm of a subtropical South Florida landscape preserved with little change from what it was centuries ago. Visitors may see wild turkeys, many varieties of land birds, 9-banded armadillos from Mexico, alligators, otter, foxes, white-tailed deer and feral pigs.
''The wild pigs are descendants of domestic escapees from the Palmer ranch,'' boat tour guide Robert Hember says. ''We've got too many. They uproot and devour food plants for desirable wild animals. Hunting is prohibited here, so the rangers trap and remove what excess pigs they can. Sometimes a fierce boar will tree a ranger.''
PALMER RANCH TODAY
Today much of the Palmer Ranch land, that is not part of Myakka River State Park, has been developed into a master-planned community of over 30 neighborhoods with 3 country clubs. Parts of the Ranch still have cattle operations.
When you visit the Palmer Ranch area today you'll find a number of features that celebrate the legacy of Bertha Palmer. The Oaks Club is near the original location of her home. Honoré Avenue bears her maiden name (and that of her son), Meadowsweet Circle is in Osprey, and the few remaining cows that you can find on Palmer Ranch's periphery are a reminder of Sarasota's rich history in cattle ranching.
"Close on the heels of the announcement that a half score of producers, managers, actors, newspaper men and authors had purchased lots in Hygeia, the latest development in Englewood, is the news that Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Fairbanks have also made purchases here." --Sarasota Herald
When the Great Florida Land Boom suddenly ended, Hygeia was all but forgotten; the land sat unused for many years. But in 1949 a new development came to the area due to a very influential player in Florida’s history: the mosquito.
In the 1940s malaria was still fairly common in Sarasota County. It wasn’t until the 1900s that the link between disease and the mosquito was discovered. The County formed a new mosquito eradication program and in April 1949 Sarasota Commissioner Peter E. Buchan helped the County acquire 93 acres of the Hygeia land for just $100. This was to build an airport to facilitate aerial spraying. The County Commissioners named the airport to honor Peter E. Buchan's "long and efficient service to the county."
In the 1960s, homes with hangers were built along the only remaining street from Hygeia, Osceola Road. Today Buchan Airport is operated by the Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners.
Born in Georgia in 1871, Peter ("Pete" Buchan (pronounced Buck-an) and his wife Florence arrived in Englewood in 1902. Pete first worked as a bookkeeper for the Chadwick Fish Company(1). In 1908 he worked at the town's only store owned by the Nichols brothers who founded Englewood(2).
When business came to a standstill, Pete left the area but returned in 1912. As soon as he entered the store (on Yale St.) H.K. Nichols exclaimed, "Hi. Have you come back to buy the store?” It was an offer Peter couldn't refuse. He got the business and the entire inventory for $315!
In 1913, for $100, Pete bought all of the bay-side land at the corner of Dearborn and Olive (now Old Englewood Rd). He built a new 2-story building and moved the store there from Yale Street. He and his family lived on the second floor. He also built a 250-foot pier out into Lemon Bay. All supplies came into Englewood by boat to "Buchan's Landing." The name and the building still exist today.
Always active in the growing community, Pete organized a work group to open up Blind Pass. He was appointed Englewood Postmaster in 1912 and set up a Post Office in his store. He served as a Trustee for the Englewood School District. In 1921 he was appointed by Governor Cary A. Hardee to be the first Sarasota County Commissioner from Englewood. Buchan served for 21 years and was instrumental in having a paved road connecting Englewood with Sarasota.
Peter E. Buchan died in 1968 at the age of 97.
(1) To learn more about the Chadwicks see photo and story "The White Elephant" in the Englewood Area History Museum.
(2) In 1893 three brothers from Englewood, Illinois: Herbert, Howard and Ira Nichols saw an exhibit at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago which introduced the idea of growing lemons in Southwest Florida. At the time scurvy was still a very serious problem. Lemons were the prescribed treatment but had to be imported from Spain which was very costly. Grove City was already underway and an unnamed bay was christened “Lemon Bay.” It was thought easy money could be made by growing lemons in Florida.
The Nichols brothers figured they could cash in on the lemon trend by selling building lots, each with an additional 10 acres on which to grow lemons. They founded Englewood, named after their home-town in Illinois and set to work selling lots. But the extra cold winters of 1894 and 1895 killed all the lemon trees.
Undaunted, the brothers changed their focus to building a Mecca to attract wealthy tourists to the area. They built the Englewood Inn (at the end of Perry St.) and started a general store (on Yale St.). But in 1909 the Inn burned to the ground. They tried to keep the store going on Yale Street but were down on their luck and down on their funding so it's no wonder they were delighted to sell the store to Peter Buchan at such a bargain price.
Compiled and edited by Don Bayley
(SOURCES: Florida Mosquito Control District website, keysmosquito.org; Diana Harris, Englewood Lives; Newton Studios, Englewood, the First 100 Years; Lindsey Williams, Writer At Large, Sun Coast Media Group; Buchan Airport website, buchanairport.weebly.com)
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Englewood Area Historical Museum
1394 Old Englewood Rd.
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