Suncoast Empire: Bertha Honoré Palmer,
Her Family, and the Rise of Sarasota, 1910-1982

Silver Award Winner for Nonfiction, Florida Book Awards

Dr. Frank A. Cassell has brought the inimitable Bertha Palmer to life in this account of her days on the southwest coast of pioneer Florida.

When Mrs. Potter Palmer of Chicago, wealthy and internationally acclaimed, stepped off the train into the Florida wilderness in 1910, she could not have known that she and her talented family were about to begin a relationship with the Sarasota area that would last seven decades. They would help develop the Sarasota region’s infrastructure, tourist industry, agricultural economy, and international reputation. In return they reaped huge profits. Bertha Palmer died only eight years after first seeing Sarasota, but she was the architect of a family empire embracing 140,000 acres. Her energy and investments transformed a sleepy village into a thriving city and made Sarasota County one of the most important agricultural areas in Florida. Bertha Palmer excelled as a frontier entrepreneur as she had in every other endeavor in her life.

After Bertha Palmer’s death her brother, two sons, and her niece’s husband, a Russian Prince, ably managed the empire she established. They played a big role in helping Sarasota survive the collapse of the Florida land boom in the 1920s and the Great Depression of the 1930s. Indeed the Sarasota County of today would not have been possible without the partnership between the community and the Palmer family.

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“. . . a lively and compelling account of agriculture and industry in Southwest Florida after World War I. Sections on the Palmer family’s forays into oil speculation and banking — and a detailed account of the drunken misdoings of Palmer’s black sheep grandson D’Orsay — are the highlights of this well-grounded contribution to Sarasota history.” — Barbara Peters Smith, May 14, 2017
Read the full Herald-Tribune review »

“I’d like to thank you and your wife, Elizabeth for your time and knowledge of Bertha Palmer and her influence in Sarasota. I’ve heard several presentations regarding the Palmers but rarely mentioning her children and what happened to their descendants. It was quite interesting and brought the family full circle for me.
Thanks again for sharing with us our Sarasota history. It’s always fun to learn new things and pass on to others.” — Jo H.

“I had read your book before your presentation for Classroom on Wheels, adult education. Both were very interesting and enlightening about the early development of Sarasota County.
Bertha Palmer was an inspiration.  It’s hard to imagine coming to this area which was undeveloped in 1910, at the age of 60 and doing so much. I enjoyed both your book and presentation. Thank you” — Georgeanna L.

“Thank you for your very interesting and informative presentation about Bertha Palmer.  What a lady!  Your book was so interesting because it did indeed cover her life here in the Sarasota area.   Have lived in the Chicago area most of my life so the Palmer name is so familiar. Thanks” — Carolyn L.