The area that is now Palm Harbor was largely uninhabited until settlers began arriving in the 1860s. The area became known as "Curlew", with the Curlew Pioneer Cemetery, established in 1869, and the Curlew Methodist Church. A post office named "Bay St. Joseph" opened in 1878. In 1881, Henry B. Plant opened the San Marino Hotel in what later became Palm Harbor in 1885. The Gulf View Hotel also opened around that time. The Sutherland Improvement Company acquired land in the Curlew/Bay St. Joseph area and developed it into the settlement of Sutherland. In 1888 the Sutherland Post Office opened. The Orange Belt Railway reached Sutherland in 1890.
The name was changed to Palm Harbor in 1925. Sutherland boasted two beautiful hotels, the larger one becoming Southern College in 1902. It sat high on the bluff overlooking Sutherland Bayou and the Gulf of Mexico. Sutherland was thought to be named after the Duke of Sutherland, who visited these parts after landing at Tarpon Springs in 1887. Local pioneers dismiss this coincidence, pointing out that the name Sutherland is a shortening of Southern Land and Development Company, the group which originally platted the community in 1888.