Born Bertha Matilde Honoré in Louisville, Kentucky, her father was businessman Henry Hamilton Honoré. Bertha, known within the family as "Cissie," studied in her home town and achieved a reputation as a skilled musician, a proficient linguist, a brilliant writer, a skilled politician, and a fine administrator.
She dined with royalty, socialized with captains of industry, enjoyed close connections to the White House, and had a good head for business. She raised children and enjoyed her grandchildren, buried a beloved husband, and chaired the Board of Lady Managers for Chicago's World's Columbian Exposition. Mrs. Potter Palmer also loved Sarasota. She was heard to say that the bay reminded her of the Bay of Naples, Italy.
In 1910 Bertha Palmer made her first impact on Sarasota history and on the Spanish Point homestead part of which is not Oaks Bayside. The Chicago socialite and widow of Potter Palmer came to Sarasota to establish a winter estate. She purchased thousands of acres for cattle ranching, citrus groves, and real estate development. The Webb homestead was part of the land she chose for her 350-acre estate which she named "Osprey Point." She preserved the pioneer buildings and connected them with lavish formal gardens and lawns.
Many of these garden elements have been restored at Historic Spanish Point. The classical columns of her Pergola & Sunken Garden still glow in the Florida sun with vibrant bougainvillea tightly hugging their bases, an aqueduct meanders through the tropical foliage with its waters flowing over a shell cascade into a reflecting pool, and a tall classic portal serenely stands over a lush green lawn. The Pergola & Sunken Garden is a popular location for wedding ceremonies.
Mrs. Palmer's varied business interests in Sarasota may have contributed to the land boom and further development of the gulf coast. One of these interests was cattle ranching. As a member of the Florida State Livestock Association, she operated a 15,000 acre ranch she called Meadow Sweet Pastures.
New techniques and innovations in the field of cattle ranching improved production; one of these was the use of large concrete vats where the animals were "dipped" in medicines and insect repellants. Meadowsweet Pastures was acquired by the State of Florida and is now a substantial part of the Myakka River State Park.
Bertha Palmer died of breast cancer at age 68 in May of 1918 while here at her winter estate, The Oaks, in what is now Oaks Bayside. The Palmer family maintained Osprey Point and in 1959, her grandson Gordon Palmer sponsored the three year excavation by Ripley P. Bullen of the archaeological site which now encompasses the museum at Historic Spanish Point. Gordon's widow, Janis along with Potter Palmer IV and other family members encouraged the nomination of Spanish Point to the National Register. In 1976 it became the first site in Sarasota County to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In 1980, the Palmer heirs donated the National Register site to Gulf Coast Heritage Association.
The rich heritage of human habitation at Historic Oaks Bayside entered a new phase in 1867 when John Greene Webb and his family from Utica, New York established a homestead on the shores of Little Sarasota Bay. A Spanish trader the family met in Key West told them of an elevated point of land on the bay. When the Webbs found the special piece of Florida wilderness, it was just right for them and they settled here. The Webbs named their homestead Spanish Point which in that day included Oaks Bayside to honor the good advice of the trader.
John Webb and his family planted citrus, sugar cane, and many vegetables. The family built a packing house to prepare it for market. To transport the produce, John's sons Jack and Will, along with son-in-law, Frank Guptill, built a ten ton schooner called Vision. John Webb's wife, Eliza, her sister Emily, and their daughters, Anna, Lizzie and Ginnie also worked on the homestead in the early years. Anna and Ginnie liked to sketch their new surroundings, and the museum's collections include many of these drawings and letters. A letter written by Eliza speaks volumes about pioneer life in Florida.
An archaeological record that encompasses approximately 5,000 years of Florida prehistory. This National Register of Historic Places museum is referred to as one of the largest intact actively preserved archaeological sites of the prehistoric period on the gulf coast of Florida. Habitation of the site spans the Late Archaic period [5,900-3,200 years ago] through to the Manasota and Late Woodland periods [3,200-1,000 years ago.]
Prehistoric people living on our bay’s shore saw the introduction of ceramics and the transition from nomadic hunters and gatherers to settled subsistence societies. They capitalized on the abundant resources provided by the gulf, marsh, woodland and bay ecosystems and utilized growing specialized tool technology to further establish the permanent and seasonal settlements.
Archaic period sites are not as prevalent on the gulf coast and are often not as well-preserved as Historic Spanish Point’s Hill Cottage Midden. Archaeological excavations and examinations of data place this midden clearly in the Archaic formative time. Given its age and the potential for further study, Hill Cottage Midden is among the most important sites in Florida, and may be one of the oldest and largest ceremonial shell ring middens in the southeastern United States.
A midden is a dump for domestic waste. The word is used by archaeologists worldwide to describe any kind of feature containing waste products relating to day-to-day human life. Middens may be convenient, single-use pits created by nomadic groups or long-term, designated dumps used by sedentary communities that accumulate over several generations. In the latter case, a midden's stratigraphy can become apparent. Midden deposits can contain a variety of archaeological material, including animal bone, shell, botanical material, potsherds, debitage (the left over pieces from making stone flake points) and other artifacts associated with past human occupation.
These features provide a useful resource for archaeologists who wish to study the diet and habits of past societies. Middens with damp, anaerobic [low to no oxygen] conditions can even preserve organic remains which can then be analyzed to obtain information regarding climate and seasonal use.
The two large shell middens forming the Late Woodland and Manasota [3,200-1,000 years ago] context of the Palmer Site 8S02 offer a substantial glimpse at those populations, along with the Burial Mound, which is considered one of the largest systematically excavated mortuary sites in the southeastern United States. The excavation in 1959-1962 by Ripley P. Bullen created one of the biggest osteological collections housed at the University of Florida’s Museum of Natural History, allowing for comprehensive study.
People living here 1000-2000 years ago were relatively healthy with an average age between 25-50 years. Bullen excavated over 429 individuals along with 4 dogs and a Florida Alligator. The Alligator was ceremonially interred with grave goods and appears to be the last burial in the mound. Bullen found no other disturbances after or above the level of the full Alligator skeleton.
Though limited, grave goods and ceremonial elements were included with both the human and the animal burials in the mound. Items like pottery, lithics, shell, and faunal material were part of the grave goods and/or burial inclusions. The styles and cultural affiliations of these were common to the regional culture of the time period leading us to propose the people here were not of their own subculture.
Prehistoric people disappear from the archaeological record of the Palmer site 8s02 sometime prior to AD 1100. To date no evidence of European contact has been found indicating under current knowledge that the site was abandoned until the Webb family arrived in 1867. Due to the concerted efforts of the Webbs, the Palmers, and Gulf Coast Heritage Association, Inc., this significant archaeological site has been preserved in a relatively pristine state, again making 8S02 one of the key sites in Florida.