POLK COUNTY, FLORIDA
Towns and Cities


BARTOW

Prominent among the energetic, pushing, beautiful and rapidly growing towns of South Florida is Bartow, the central and capital town of far-famed Polk County. It is situated near the centre of the elevated and fertile ridge of land, the backbone of the peninsula, that extends in a northerly and southerly direction until lost in the flat lands of the counties in the extreme southern portion of the State. Here, however, the road-bed of the South Florida Railroad has an elevation of 114 feet.

At and surrounding Bartow, on every side, are large quantities of the most fertile and the most desirable lands that are to be found anywhere in the State of Florida. The vigorous growth of the beautiful pine, intermingled with an abundance of oak of a number of varieties, is a surprise to the visitor who had become tired and wearied of the ceaseless, unbroken pine presented by so many sections. There is a charm in variety, and a fertile soil has an undeniable attractiveness.

Another surprise that arrests the attention of the visitor, is the firm and solid tread that greets the impress of the foot of man and beast. No wading through deep and difficult sands, but hard, smooth and enduring pathways. There is also a variety of surface, which is gently rolling, precluding the monotony caused by broad stretches of flat lands. Here are hill and dall, with gentle swells, furnishing delightful building sites and ample drainage—the central portion of the town being higher than the surrounding and contiguous country.

The broad streets and avenues cross each other at right-angles, the blocks being of one acre each. Along the streets and in the yards of the residents are numerous vigorous oaks and other trees that give a most delightful and congenial shade, the like of which is to be found in but few places outside of the fertile ridge of Polk County. Here, too, are vigorous orange trees, laden with an immense quantity of the "apples of the Hesperides—fit food for the gods."

The centre of attraction, and of business, is the capacious, elegantly and substantially furnished court-house, the finest in South Florida, which occupies not only a central, but also the highest, part of the town. The fence around it encloses a square of one acre of land—one block—which is surrounded by a line of posts connected by chain cables. About a rod within is a substantial picket fence. On the four streets surrounding, and their extensions, are grouped many of the stores, offices, hotels and business houses.

The depot of the South Florida Railroad is situated about half a mile to the southeast of the court-house which is thus secure from the annoyance caused by the noise of trains, the roar, jostle and push of active business. The court-house fixes the centre, and new buildings, mostly of a very neat, elegant or substantial character, are being erected in every direction around it. Evidently, judging from the present rate of progess, it will be but very few years befroe the whole of the four miles comprising the area of the corporation of Bartow will be completely covered with buildings and groves, from sixty to seventy new buildings having been erected and many acres set in orange groves since the advent of the South Florida Railroad, last January, while work on both is progressing very rapidly.

A careful computation shows that about one-sixth of the area of the corporation, some four hundred acres or more, are already occupied by buildings, groves, nurseries, etc. Lemons, limes, guavas, bananas, grape fruit, Japan plums and persimmons, strawberries and a long list of other fruits are cultivated, as well as oranges, besides the beautiful shrubs, flowers, running vines, etc., etc., that adorn the yards of so many of the residents. This is the true HOMELAND, where meet the productions of both the temperate and the semi-tropic zones, where harvests are continuous and where flowers bloom all the year, destructive freezes being almost, or virtually, unknown, and frosts rare and mild; its comparatively low latitude giving it much greater exemption from these destructive influences than localities at any distance to the north.

The survey of the Florida Southern Railroad runs within less than a quarter of a mile to the west of the court-house, and work is progressing rapidly; a line already building from Tavares to Charlotte Harbor is to run through Bartow; a road is chartered from Bartow to Tampa, and other roads are expected to link Bartow with other parts of the State in all desirable directions, making it a lively railroad and general business centre. In fact, its future seems to be indisputably assured as one of the most important and desirable business centres of South Florida.

Bartow is the natural business centre of a large extent of the most fertile country, as well as the most healthful and salubrious and desirable, that any part of Florida affords. The water, too, is excellent, and is readily secured by boring or digging through alternate strata of sand and clay to a depth of 25 to 30 feet, at which depth the supply is constant and unlimited. There is also a surprising and unexpected exemption from insect pests, mosquitoes being few in number and so rarely seen that bars are unused and unnessary. Flies, gnats, etc., are also limited in quantity and fleas are disappearing as the laws banish the hogs.

The prices of lands are very reasonable, considering Bartow's importance as a trade centre; the rapidity with which the town is building in every direction; the prospects as regards railroad facilities; the favorable location for a variety of manufactories; the fertility of the soil; the delicious healthfulness of the climate; the large quantity of choice outlying lands; the great variety of fruits and vegetables that can be successfully and profitably raised and marketed; the many beautiful and desirable locations for homes and for business places; the social and enterprising character of the people and many other reasons that will suggest themselves to the visitor.

The first settlement in the corporation's limits was made in 1851. In 1852 several families settled in the near vicinity. Being far distant from transportation and without good road—Tampa, on the Gulf of Mexico, forty-five miles distant, being the nearest trading post and post-office—the population increased very slowly, notwithstanding the remarkable fertility of the soil and delicious salubrity of the climate. In 1866, Bartow was made the county seat and the International Ocean Telegraph line was built, and opened an office here. The first store was built and opened the same year. The court-house, a hotel, a school-house and Masonic lodge, and several other buildings, were also erected in 1866. Then things resumed their usual quiet course, the lack of transportation being an insurmountable obstacle.

The population increased very slowly and no attempt was made to build a town. The chief industry of the people was the raising of cattle and agricultural products for home use. The people were self-supporting from the fertile soil. In 1868, Capt. David Hughes located here, built a store-house, and went into the cattle business on a large scale. W. T. Carpenter had the first and only store for the sale of goods, from early 1865 to 1870, when Capt. Hughes opened his store to the public and has since done an immense trade.

Thus matters continued until 1881, in a quiet humdrum way, the people being virtually isolated from the outside world. They had plenty on which to live, but little else, on account of the lack of markets and the difficulties and expense of transportation. They necessarily became self-reliant; they were happy and contented; crime was very rare. Railroads were chartered occasionally, but until 1880 none were built in South Florida. That year the South Florida Railroad was built from Sanford to Orlando, and extended in 1881 to Kissimmee. It was chartered to run through Bartow to Tampa. Then railroad talk became rife; a few enterprising prospectors scoured Polk County searching for desirable lands, and brought back glowing reports of the beauty, fertility and delicious salubrity of the country. They dwelt with enthusiam upon the rich lands, the vigorous growths of oak and pine and other woods, the running streams, the rolling country, the pleasant vales, the lovely building sites, the inexpressible deliciousness of the climate, and the wonderful opportunities to secure fortunes.

G. W. Smith, one of Bartow's most enterprising citizens and prominent merchants, came in the spring of 1881; the trip from Orlando, with his family and household effects, being made in ox-carts over rough trails and swollen unbridged streams. They were eight days on the way, camping at night. Is it any wonder that Bartow, or Polk County, fertile and delicious section as it is, is not more thickly peopled, or that now the South Florida Railroad has its present terminus at Bartown, people should be rapidly pushing into the country to secure home? Mr. Smith was pleased with the country, its advantages and its opportunities, and having had extensive experience in other sections, he knew a good thing when he saw it. He therefore purchased about one-sixth of the then surveyed town, bought a saw-mill, and later opened a store, to which he has made successive additions to accommodate his steadily increasing business. During the year he proposes to build a still larger and elegant store, though his present place holds an immense stock of goods.

But I have neither the time nor the space to trace the individual history of Bartow. The impetus it received in 1881 has been earnestly progressive. July 1, 1882, the corporate government was organized, J. H. Humphries, Esg., the present Polk County delegate to the Constitutional Convention, being elected Mayor. Only twenty-eight legal voters were found in the corporation limits, and of these twenty-two were present. They knew the time had come for Bartow to move. The population is now about 700.

Numbers of new buildings were erected during the season of 1882 and 1883. Prominent among them were a Baptist and Methodist church, as well as stores and dwellings. Since that time building has been steady, progressive and continuous. In 1884, the old court-house was removed and the present fine and attractive structure erected. Also a fine hotel, an opera-house, and numbers of stores, residences, etc. In January of the present year, the South Florida Railroad reached Bartow, infusing new life into town and country. Its projection, its survey, and building to Tampa, had given a great impetus to the purchase of land and the setting out of groves, but an actual railroad here not only gave people the opportunity to come and see for themselves, but it also greatly facilitated and cheapened the transportation of supplies of all kinds. The manner in which its approach, even, gave an impetus to business and enterprise is evidenced by the fact that of the 12,000 orange trees set in grove, in the corporation limits, about half has been the work of the past two years. This fact alone indicates whether the many new comers have been pleased with the advantages offered by this section to clear-headed and enterprising men. Here many have builded their fortunes anew, many have made for themselves lovely homes.

The Bartow of to-day comprises a beautiful tract of rolling country, wide streets crossing each other at right angles, beautiful oaks and other delightful shade trees scattered throughout the corporation, substantial plank sidewalks and crossings in the chief business portion of the town, though the ground is so firm, and yet absorbs the fallling rain so quickly, that they are very much less needed than in other sections of the country. The untraveled parts of the streets, the uncultivated parts of the yards and the fields are covered with a vigorous growth of grass. Orange groves abound, and outside of the business part of the rapidly-growing town the lessening tracts of pine, and of pine intermingled with oak, are patiently awaiting their destiny, for they will soon be removed to make place for buildings and groves, and gardens of fruits, vegetables and flowers.

To note the town itself, the large two-story court-house, with its tower and four gables, is an appropriate starting point. On the corner of Main Street and Broadway Avenue, to the south, is the general merchandis store of CAPT. DAVID HUGHES, well stocked with every variety of general merchandise, which is sold by his gentlemanly and attentive clerks at very satisfactory prices. The stock is not only large, but the yearly sales are immense, some years reaching as high figures as $60,000. Two additions have been made to the store since it was first built, to make room for the constantly increasing stock, attractively displayed, and last spring the active and wide-awake Captain, a Colonel and Commandant of the Militia of Polk County by commission, purchased the handsome and commodious opera-house and removed the clothing and gentlemen's furnishing goods to the ground floor, whereon is one of the most elegant and commodious stores in town. Yet his old store is full to overflowing. In front of Captain Hughes' store is a row of vigorous sour orange trees, protected by heaps of stone at their base.

Westerly from the court-house, on Broadway, is the general merchandise store of GEORGE W. SMITH, the pioneer merchant of this decade. His stock of goods is varied and extensive, but though his building is large and commodious he is unable to give them anything like an appropriate display. He will soon remedy this, however, by the erection of a new and creditable store, where he will continue his present immense business.

The LANG BROTHERS, on Broadway, directly west of the court-house, have a very fine and attractive stock of dry goods, clothing, gentlemen's furnishing goods, and boots and shoes, as well as a choice selected stock of staple and fancy groceries, canned goods, tobaccos, etc. The store is kept as neat as a parlor, and the goods are displayed in excellent style, while their prices are very moderate and encouragingly satisfactory. Their customers receive the most polite and gentlemanly attention, and those who once patronize them are sure to go again.

COLONEL J. N. HOOKER & CO'S fine and well-stocked general merchandise store, on Main Street, to the southeast of the court-house, deserves a more than passing notice. It is not only an extensive, neat and well-lighted establishment, but contains a very heavy stock of general merchandise, embracing every variety, which are sold at prices to suit the times, by his attentive and gentlemanly clerks. The Colonel is Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners. He also has a large general merchandise store at Fort Meade.

Northeast of the court-house is the extensive hardware store of the REED BROTHERS, solidly packed with the great variety of articles in general demand, in the way of stoves, plows, pumps, piping, etc., etc. In fact, a variety of general hardware goods and general field and household articles too numerous to mention. They also do a general tinning business, drive and bore wells, etc., etc.

North of the court-house, we observe a floor laid beneath the shade of some handsome water-oaks, and supplied with seats. This is a first introduction to the BARTOW FURNITURE STORE, which, located just across the sidewalk, has an immense stock of the varied kinds of furniture most in deman. The goods are so numerous and so closely packed and piled that you can hardly move around, but you can, no doubt, secure the articles you desire.

J. P. STATHAM & CO. are enterprising druggists and physicians, located on Broadway. They have a varied assortment of druggist's goods, and are doing a popular and very lively business, when the exceedingly healthful state of the country is taken into consideration.

BAEUMEL & OPPENHEIMER, on Main Street, south of the court-house, are the new druggists from the West, who have built and opened a nice drug-store the present season. Everything is new and very neat and attractive. They also have a handsome soda-water fountain, and dispose of immense quantities of the cooling fluid. They set the example of self-protection from fire by means of a bored well in a rear corner of their store, to which a force-pump is attached. Water is forced to a tank in the attic, from whence, by pipes and hose, it is available in all parts of the building. They also have a Babcock fire extinguisher.

L. LYTLE has extensive livery, feed and sale stables, just to the east, on Main Street. He also deals extensively in carriages, hay and grain. He keeps a good supply of fine animals and carriages, and can insure any one a pleasant drive. Mr. L. is the pioneer livery man of Bartow, and does an immense business.

H. T. DIAL has a very extensive steam planing mill near the north edge of the town plat, and a saw-mill at Peace River, thus insuring a constant supply of lumber at satisfactory prices. He also has wood-working attachments, whereby he fills orders for orange boxes, vegetable crates, brackets, mouldings, etc. He also has a grist mill, and is comtemplating starting a furniture manufactory.

J. M. DILL is the active and energetic contractor and builder, who is makin his progress along the pathway of time, by the erection of substantial and creditable buildings. The work that he has done is his best and most convincing advertisement, and a bright future spurs him to earnest endeavor.

MRS. SNODDY'S millinery store speaks for itself, and shows that there are some advantages in this direction, but a lady at one short visit would have more actual knowledge of the facts than a man could evolve in a week.

The three leading hotels of Bartow, taken in the order of the age of the buildings, are the WEBSTER HOUSE on Main Street, west of the court-house, E. Webster, proprietor; the CENTRAL HOUSE to the east, kept by J. F. Kelly, and the BARTOW HOUSE on Davidson Street, northwest of the court-house, by Dr. R. H. Huddleston. The rates at each are two dollars ($2) a day, the houses present a creditable appearance, and the proprietors apparently use their best endeavor to promote the satisfaction of their guests. The Webster House is being enlarged by a handsome two-story front.

TIGNER & TATUM, real estate agents, have their office on Main Street, directly south of the court-house. They are wide-awake and reliable men, thoroughly informed by years of personal experience, with the varied qualities and values of land—past, present and prospective. They have large quantities of lands on their books, both improved and umimproved, and can suit their customers with town lots, bearing groves, pleasant and desirable residence lots, or wild lands in quantity, as the taste of the purchaser, or the condition of his pocket-book may dictate. They have been residents of Bartow and in active business here for several years, but had previously become well acquainted with other parts of the country, consequently they know land when they see it. As they have every kind of land for sale, they have no occasion to misrepresent the desirability of any particular tract, and their honorable reputation is good evidence that they have no such disposition. They have full faith in the future of South Florida, and especially of Polk County, and they have good and substantial reasons for the faith that is in them. They reply promptly to all inquiries with regard to lands and opportunities for investment.

JOHN C. WRIGHT has an extensive general merchandise store on the corner of Main Street and Broadway, to the southwest of the court-house. He also deals largely in paints, oils, etc., doing an extensive business in all lines. F. D. Beville, one of the early merchants of the town, as it was commencing its later growth, is his chief clerk.

J. J. McKINNEY has a pleasant and well-stocked livery and sale stable, a block northeast of the court-house, that is kept in excellent shape. He has fine horses and carriages, and the terms are moderate. The buildings and outfit are all new, and those who desire a pleasant drive about this delightful country, with or without a driver, will here be promptly suited by the accommodating proprietor.

Having noted the leading firms in active business, a brief summary may aid in giving an idea of the activities that are busy in attending to the varied wants, and promoting the development of this section. These comprise five general merchandise stores, one clothing, one hardware and one furniture store, three hotels, three drug stores, two livery stables, several real estate agencies, a news room, telegraph office, money-order postoffice, express office, and railroad depot, a skating rink, a weakly newspaper, two billiard rooms, two barber shops, two millinery and dress-making rooms, one photograph gallery, one shoemaker's shop, one blacksmith shop, a bakery, a butcher's shop, a fish market, several restaurants, soda and ice-cream rooms, several boarding houses, a well-stocked harness shop, a watch repairer, a number of reputable and skillful physicians, from various parts of the Union, several educated attorneys, several contractors and builders, two churches with regular preaching, a fire insurance agent, a brass band, a Masonic lodge, and a variety of societies, agencies, etc., a court-house and jail, a laundry building, well-stocked with the most approved machinery, that awaits a capable and energetic manager. A planing mill, with wood-working machinery, is located in town, and there are several saw mills in the country adjacent. In fact, quite a number of industries are locted here, but there is room and opportunity for the profitable establishment of many others. Those desiring to better their condition should note these facts.

RETAIL PRICES OF GOODS


Many who come here are surprised to find the prices so much more reasonable than they expected, especially in dry goods, clothing, boots and shoes, canned goods, etc. Crockery and glass ware are higher than in most of the Northern and Middle States, in consequence of the high transportation charges on that class of goods, yet they are not higher than in most parts of the West and South. As regards provisions: flour is from $6.50 to $8.00 per barrel, meal and grits $5 per barrel, or 3⅓ cents per pound; bacon, 9 to 10 cents per pound; lard, 12½ cents; hams, 14 to 15 cents; sugar, 6 to 10 cents; rice, 8 to 10 cents; oatmeal, 8 to 12½ cents; crackers, 10 cents; butter, 35 cents; coffee (best Rio), 14 to 20 cents; tea, 50 to $1; nails, 4 to 5 cents; beans, 8 cents; syrup, 40 to 50 cents per gallon; kerosene, 30 to 35 cents; eggs, 20 to 25 cents per dozen; sweet potatoes, 40 cents per bushel; Irish, 50 cents peck; corn, $1 per bushel.

[Source: Homeland; a description of the climate, productions, resources, topography, soil, opportunities, attractions, advantages, development and general characteristics of Polk County, Florida. By Sherman Adams, 1885.; Tigner, Tatum & Company, Bartow, Florida. Transcribed by Sheila Pitts Massie, Coordinator.]

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