Articles: Sarasota History
Eagle Point Club is now a gated community with luxury homes on Roberts Bay. Almost 100 years ago this land was owned by Bertha Palmer, the multi-millionaire widow of Potter Palmer who, among many other enterprises, built and owned the famous Palmer House Hotel in Chicago.
Mrs. Palmer came to the Sarasota County area in 1910. She could envision this beautiful coast as an American Riviera. With her sons and other investors she formed the Sarasota-Venice Company to buy and manage tens of thousands of acres of land in what is now Sarasota County. She established cattle ranches and citrus groves. She had a winter home at Spanish Point which she called “The Oaks.” Wealthy friends from Chicago built homes nearby. One is now the Field Club and one is the Edson Keith mansion on Phillippi Creek in one of our Sarasota County parks.
In the midst of opulence and excess, the wealthy required rustic retreats. A favorite retreat in Mrs. Palmer’s circle was Tepee, a dude ranch in Wyoming owned and operated by Mike Evans, a charming Englishman. When Palmer saw the Eagle Point property she thought it would make a perfect rustic fishing and hunting camp for her friends. She hired Evans to develop and run Eagle Point Camp, as it was called. It opened in January 1917. Guests the first year were prominent corporation heads from Chicago, New York, Boston, and the West who were fond of Tepee and Evans. They fished, sometimes catching 100 trout in an hour. They rode horses to shoot quail, turkey, and deer. In the evening they had dinner in the clubhouse and often played bridge.
In March 1918 Evans bought Eagle Point shortly before Palmer died of breast cancer. In 1923 Evans sold the resort to Cornelia and F. Kingsbury Curtis who had been among the first guests. They incorporated the resort as Eagle Point, Inc. Evans continued to operate the resort until 1926. The Curtis family owned and operated the resort through the winter season of 1988-89, thus making it one of the oldest businesses in Sarasota County to be operated continuously by the same family.
Georgette and Jack Duke became the managers in 1953. Georgette, the great-granddaughter of Dona Bay pioneer settlers Jesse and Rebecca Knight, shared information about Eagle Point in a 1993 interview. She said that throughout its existence the guests were affluent, recommended by friends, and when trains ran to Venice, often arrived on the Orange Blossom Express direct from New York City. The resort took no off-the-highway guests. One guest, a noted ornithologist, was the curator of the Museum of Natural History in Philadelphia. His name was James Bond. He told how, when he was at a resort in the Caribbean, another guest named Ian Fleming asked to borrow the name James Bond for a book he was writing. James Bond became 007.
The cabins had no kitchens, so the guests ate three meals a day in the clubhouse. Dinner was at 7:00 p.m. Guests sat at assigned tables and gentlemen wore coats and ties. On cocktail nights the ladies wore long dresses.
The Eagle Point Club 24-acre site with its clubhouse and several cottages was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991. In 1989 the area was sold to developers Glenn Goodman and Danny Overstreet.
In addition to information from Georgette Duke, this article is based on information in Janet Snyder Matthews’ book, Venice, Journey from Horse and Chaise, a 1992 report written by Rebecca Swain Schwarz titled “The Eagle Point Club Yesterday and Today,” an article in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune by Judy Huskey, and material in the Sarasota County History Center.