Polk County, Florida
Formation & History

Area, 1,980 sq. m.--Lat. 27* 35' to 28* 10' N.--Long. 81* 25' to 82* 2' W.--Estimated pop. (1889), 8,000.---Pop. (1880), 3,181.--Assessed valuation (1888), $3,500,000.---County seat, Bartow.
The county was formed in 1859, by act of the State legislature, from portions of the large neighboring counties of Hillsborough, Orange, and Sumter, but its organization was interrupted by the Civil War, and not perfected in its present shape until 1874. It is named after James K. Polk, eleventh President of the United States. The twenty-fifth parallel of latitude runs nearly through the middle of the county.

It was settled mainly by cattle men, who had served in the Indian wars and noted the natural advantages of the country. Its average elevation above the sea is estimated at 150 feet, and its greatest elevation, according to the levels run by the engineers of the South Florida Railroad, is 235 feet. Nearly one-fifth of the surface is water, in lakes of every conceivable size and shape, from Lake Kissimmee, eighteen miles long, down to little pools too small to be shown on the map, but sometimes indicated by a dot.

As a rule, these lakes are full of pure, clear water, and well stocked with fish. Most of them are deep enough to deserve the name of lakes or ponds, but some are little better than savannahs. The lake region proper lies in the middle of the county. The northern portion of this region is high rolling land, the bluffs rising sharply from the lake shores sometimes as much as sixty feet. These afford an endless number of excellent building sites, with the advantage, somewhat unusual in Florida, of a decided elevation.

The land is sandy and sandy loam, and the usual variety of high and low hammock and the three grades of pine land are well distributed over the county. Toward the south the face of the country is more generally level, and prairies are more frequent.

The Kissimmee River, here mainly a succession of lakes, is navigable to the Gulf of Mexico through Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee River. Peace River is navigable for small boats to Fort Meade. This stream falls into Charlotte Harbor on the Gulf of Mexico. Its tributaries, with those of the Alafia and the Withlacoochee Rivers, drain a wide region in the southern and western part of the county.

The best grade of pine lands in this region are considered most desirable for agricultural purposes, because, under judicious cultivation, their productiveness seems to increase, while the high hammocks deteriorate after a few yeaars of astonishing productiveness. The dryer kinds of low hammock are prized for general farming and garden crops, especially the early vegetables that are becoming such an important factor in the commerce of the State.

The timber is mainly pine and cypress, but all the hard woods are found in the hammocks. The summer temperature ranges from 86° to 97° at midday, falling some twenty degress during the night. In the winter the ordinary range is from 45° to 75°, with, however, occasional northers, when the thermometer drops suddenly to the freezing-point. After the first of February immunity from frost is almost certain, and the thermometer ranges from 60° to 78°. The rainy season begins in June and lasts till the middle or end of September, rain falling, as a rule, almost every day.

The vital statistics of the county show that general health is good, the death-rate from ordinary diseases very low. The county commissioners of Polk County certify the following list of its products: Corn, oats, rye, pumpkins, squashes, beans in variety (the snap and lima runners being very prolific), peas (in variety), potatoes, beets, carrots, onions, parsnips, egg-plant, cucumbers, cantaloupes, water-melons, cabbages, collards, cauliflower, kohl-rabi, ruta-bagas, turnips, pepper, okra, tomatoes, lettuce, salsify, spinach, mustard, sorghum, sugar-can, cassava, arrow-root, ginger, chufas, pindars or ground peas, goubers, grass-nuts, pie melon, etc.

Of plants and herbs, sweet marjoram, thyme, tea-plants, castor-bean, and benne. Of fruits, orange, sweet, bitter-sweet, and sour; lemons, limes, grapes, peaches, LeConte and avocado pears, tiger apples, sugar apples, citron, shaddocks, grape-fruit, mangoes, Japan plums, bananas, pineapples, guavas, plums, pomegranates, figs, olives, and pecans. Many of these are not recommended as profitable crops. The list is given to show the possible range of agricultural resources.

The Polk County region was a favorite hunting and farming ground of the aboriginal races, and mounds and other evidences of prehistoric habitations are found. When the United States surveys were made in 1848 numerous evidences existed of extensive cultivation, but the luxuriant forest growth has nearly obliterated most of them at the present time.

The South Florida Railway enters the county from Pasco County (northwest), and Osceola County (northeast), its branches forming a triangle in the heart of the county. The main line has stations near and within the county as follows:

The Bartow Branch stations are:

42 Campbells (Osceola Co.) 71
50 Lake Locke 63
54 Emmanton 61
57 Davenport 58
61 Haines City 54
Dist. fr. 68 Bartow Jc.1 47 Dist. fr.
Sanford 72 Auburndale 43 Port
77 Fitshughs 38 Tampa
111 East Cove 13
81 Acton 34
83 Lakeland 2 32
93 Plant City 22
115 Tampa 9
124 Port Tampa 0

1 Connects Bartow Branch
2 Connects Pemberton Ferry Branch
0 Bartow Jc.1 17
5 Winter Haven 12
Dist. fr. 9 Eagle Lake 8 Dist.
Bartow Jc. 12 Gordonsville 5 fr. Bartow
17 Bartow2 0

1Connects with main line to Tampa, south, and Sanford, northeast.
2Connects F. S. (J., T. & K. W. system) for Punta Gorda, Charlotte Harbor, etc.

The Pemberton Ferry Branch has stations near and within Polk County as follows:

23 Richland (Pasco Co.) 31
32 Tedderville 22
Dist. fr. 37 Kathleen 17 Dist. fr.
Pemberton 40 Griffin's Mill 7 Punta
Ferry 43 Lakeland1 14 Bartow
51 Haskell 6
57 Bartow2 0

1Crosses J., T. & K. W. from Sanford and Tampa.
2Connects Bartow branch and F. S Ry. to Punta Gorda.

[Source: A HANDBOOK OF FLORIDA: by Charles Ledyard Norton, 1890.] Transcribed by Sheila Massie.

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