Bertha Honore Palmer

Bertha Honore Palmer

You could write a book about Bertha Honore Palmer, the famous Chicago socialite and Florida real estate pioneer, and in fact several people have.

The wife and later widow of millionaire Potter Palmer—he built the famed Palmer House Hotel in 1871 as her wedding gift—Bertha turned out be not only a collector of art, jewelry and high-society dinner guests but a savvy businesswoman in her own right. When she first visited the Sarasota area in 1910 (a prototype escapee from cold Midwestern winters), she ended up buying more than 80,000 acres of land here—approximately one-third of the land in what was then a massive Manatee County. (Among those 80,000 acres is now the master-planned community of Palmer Ranch.) And she soon became a progressive rancher and land developer, a hands-on owner who supervised every detail, whether it involved installing cattle-dipping vats to prevent tick fever or the building of her elegant Osprey home, The Oaks, where she hired Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmstead to oversee her landscaping. It’s impossible to imagine the development of Sarasota’s South County without her.

Bertha Palmer visits with friends

Bertha Palmer visits with friends

We also have Bertha Palmer to thank for something else that’s stood the test of time: believe it or not, the brownie. As chair of the Board of Lady Managers of the Columbia Exposition World’s Fair in Chicago, Palmer charged the Palmer House kitchen with creating this delectable treat to serve at the 1893 World’s Fair.

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