Polk County Cities and Towns

Brief Histories of Polk County Cities and Towns

Winter Haven is best known as the home of Cypress Gardens, a theme park which has recently gone through renovations to add thrill rides. Country musician Gram Parsons was from a wealthy family in Winter Haven. Winter Haven was also home to the first Publix supermarket.

[ Source: Wikipedia.org - Contributed by Norita Moss ]

Dundee was incorporated in 1924, built on the wealth of Florida’s citrus industry but now serves as a growing host community to larger neighboring cities and as a host to tourists visiting area attractions. Governed by a town council and manager, Dundee offers residents nice lakeside parks and is currently participating with county government in the development of a new regional park and recreation complex.

[ Source: Wikipedia.org - Contributed by Norita Moss ]

Fort Meade is the oldest city in Polk County, dating its origins to 1849 when it was an old military road from Tampa (Fort Brooks) to Fort Pierce during the Indian wars. The 1880s business district was located on old Wire Street (now Broadway), which was a casualty to 4 devastating fires. The earliest known burial is John I. Hooker (1821-1862) located in the Evergreen Cemetery in town. Fort Meade's Christ Church (Episcopal) located at 526 N. Oak was built in 1889. It is a frame vernacular with Gothic Revival elements and was designed by architect J. H. Weddell. A minister by the name of C.E Butler had committed suicide at the church in 1894. Located next to Christ Church is the famous Rev. Wm James Reid House. Located within the historic district, the house was used for the HBO motion picture The Judgement featuring Blythe Danner, Keith Carradine and Jack Warden (1990). Future Confederate General Stonewall Jackson, was stationed at the fort in 1851. The town was burned by Union forces in 1864 and all of the original structures were destroyed, except the 2nd fort which was dismantled in the 1890s. Fort Meade has over 300 hundred homes on the National Register of Historic Places ,and a handful that date to the late 1800s.

[ Wikipedia.org - Contributed by Norita Moss ]

The following history was prepared by Mr. Max Reif. He had the first telephone company and hotel at Fort Meade. It is contributed by Mr. Mabry Carlton of Wauchula, Florida.

Fort Meade has a history dating back almost a century-long before the white man’s feet trod the ground. Its site was an Indian camp. There are still traces in old fields of their cultivation. Their main crops seem to have been corn and tobacco. The bluffs overlooking Peace River, which afforded them an unobstructed outlook for miles in every direction, the country on both sides of the river being bare of timber, were a favorite spot for their meetings and conferences with the chiefs of the other tribes. Many a pow-wow has been held there and even as late as the year 1858, at the end of the last Indian war in Florida, Bowlegs, the chief of the Seminoles, on this very spot, smoked the pipe of Peace with General Scott of the U. S. Army. Up to only a few years ago, the oak under which these representatives of two races so much differing from each other in their views, one standing for the past, the other for the future, for progress and civilization, still stood high and proud, a shining mark and sentinel; but alas: the vandalism of time and the march of an exacting civilization proved too much for the “Peace Oak” and the sturdy tree has joined the sturdy sons of a heroic race in the happy hunting grounds.

And into this section, before it had a name even, a veritable paradise of grazing lands, fertile acres, plenty of running streams stocked with brim, perch, bass, drum, channel catfish, the woods peopled with all sorts of wild game: deer, quail, turkeys, bear, wolves, catamounts, ducks & bees, virtually overflowing with “milk and honey”, came the white settlers. The first ones of whom there is a record, were Capt. F. A. Hendry, who is still living in Lee County, and Lewis Lanier; the former settled on the banks of a creek 2 miles north of here and which today yet bears the name of Hendry Creek. Lewis Lanier, who is now dead many years leaving many descendents, amongst them a granddaughter the late Mrs. Stephen M. Sparkman, set out an orange grove on the banks of Peace River, which was already bearing fruit in 1851 when the U. S. Government established a fort here and named the site “Fort Meade”, thus honoring for his valient services a subaltern officer, Lt. Meade, who rose to the commander-in-chief of the U. S. Armies during the Civil War. To make this country accessible, to open communication with the outer world, for the purpose of hauling their ammunition, guns & their supplies, the troops built a road, as straight as the bird flies from Tampa to Fort Meade and beyond to other forts south on both sides of the river. Many sections of this road are still in existence and frequent use, after over 80 years they still testify to the thoroughness of the work done, and serve as a model and example to our modern roadbuilders.

After the coming of the troops, safeguarding them from depredations of the Indians, there was an influx of white men, mainly from the upper part of the state and from Southern Georgia. Some of these sturdy pioneers, who entered an unknown region, a hostile wilderness, where they were to have many a bloody encounter with their red foes and rivals for the land of modern Canaan, and even some of them losing their lives in defense of their home and their families, were George W. Hendry, Marion Hendry, Willoughby Tillis, Thomas Underhill, J. L. Skipper, Streaty Parker & brothers, William McCullough, Robert Prine, William Brooker, John H. Hollingsworth, the Whiddens, the Carltons, all of whom left many descendents who today rank amongst the best men and women in a community noted for its standing for law and order, for morality and intelligence, for thrift and prosperity, for progress and improvements.

Soon the timber was felled, houses were erected, crops were growing, the cattle were grazing on a thousand hills and the foundation was laid for the Fort Meade of the present day. By reason of its advantageous location of the banks of Peace River with high open land on both sides, a ferry for bringing wagons and cattle across the stream, which was soon replaced by a substantial bridge, which for many years remained the only one across the Peace River for its entire length, the good roads previously mentioned built by the U. S. government and the town furtherest south on the peninsula, with Fort Myers on the banks of the Caloosahatchee, a distance of nearly 120 miles away, excepted, Fort Meade soon sprang into prominence as a trading point for the settlers and remaining Indians alike, as a social gathering place for the clans, on account of the abundance of fish in the streams and wild games in the woods as a paradise for the sportsman.

With the railroad no nearer than Gainesville, a seaport as far away as Tampa Bay, a name the old settlers loved to call our present south Florida metropolis, Fort Meade, soon after Civil War, became the Mecca of the hunter and fisherman and winter resort of the northern tourist. And whilst the fish and game are a thing of the past, through the opening of the entire peninsula by railroad routes and the many attractions of the state offered a younger generation of tourists, the commercial supremacy of Fort Meade is still unquestioned in spite of the many vicissitudes undergone in common with other Florida towns, such as freezes, fires and panics, like the Phenix from its ashes Fort Meade had always arisen equal to the occasion and today holds the banner as the most important business town south of Tampa.

Great progress in their peaceful pursuits was made by the settlers after the close of the war with the Indians, but their breathing spell was short, for soon the Civil War was to break out and there was not an ablebodied man or boy who did not leave farm or ranch to shoulder a musket in the cause of the Confederacy, and during the four years of the war, the women and children and the old men tilled the ground and attended to the cattle, making a precarious living and many of the families being often on the verge of starvation. The old government fort & its barracks were garrisoned with companies of home guards, who did valiant service in defense of their cause, delivering many a battle to the Federals who ere intrenched on the lower part of the peninsula but never gained a foothold further north than Fort Myers.

And another service the old fort rendered: supplying the Confederate armies to the north with their beef of which there were plenty in this region. Many of these brave men, now veterans of two long and bitterly contested campaigns, never came back, many returned crippled, with loss of an arm or leg; but the survivors after the war was over, set in with good cheer to recoup the losses suffered during their absence, rebuilt their homes in many instances burnt down by bushwackers, and took up their vocations as peaceable citizens, devoted husbands and good fathers. Their enterprise and energy soon found an outlet for their products: hogs and cattle, their main industry, were driven as far north as Savannah, Ga., south to Punta Rassa for shipment to Key West & Cuba; later the wars in Cuba created an increased demand for Fort Meade’s cattle, bringing fancy prices and being paid for in Spanish gold, “doubloons” whose values in U. S. currency was $15.50 and circulated here freely as late as 1886 or 1887. They raised everything they needed, corn for their stock, ground to meal and grits for themselves, sugarcane for syrup and sugar, tobacco for their pipes, small flocks of sheep to give them wool, small patches of cotton to clothe and warm them, vegetables of many kinds for their tables, beef they had and port a plenty, the cowhides they turned into leather for their footwear and harness; little money was then required for other necessaries and the money their hog and cattle brought was more than plenty for their purpose.

The wild orange groves in the swamps, bearing mainly sour and bittersweet oranges, and probably set out by the Indians, were transplanted, first a few trees for ornament around their places, and soon as the demand for the luscious Florida orange increased in groves, which today rank amongst the finest in Florida.

The merchants of that early period, the Lightseys, Browns, Dzialynski, Wilsons, and the and a little later Hendry& Carter, E. E. Skipper, J. N. Hooker and the Reif brothers did a large business, second to none done this present day, having their goods hauled by oxwagons from Tampa and sending there, oranges, wool, hides, honey, beeswax, alligator hides, syrup.

After the railroads were built further into south Florida, with the completion of the South Florida Railroad, a narrow guage one from Sanford to Tampa, Fort Meade’s shipping point was Lake Parker, on the present site of the thriving city and important railroad center of Lakeland and later on Bartow took the latter’s place. Not until the year 1886, when the Florida Southern Railway company built from Pemberton Ferry to Charlotte Harbor, did Fort Meade get a railroad connection of its own. But even before this, in the years of 1883 and 4, there was an influx of Northerners, mainly from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Kansas, all good farmers who bought the lands from the old settlers or homesteaded government land who made a success here, stayed, some of them still living and their progeny turned into solid, intelligent Florida Crackers. These newcomers were followed by colonies of a superior class of Englishmen, mainly young men, who had plenty of money to invest and spend; bought orange groves, drove fine horses and made times generally good. Many of them left Fort Meade after a few years for other fields, but some remained, settled down, took the fair daughters of the land for wives and now, they and their children cannot be distinguished from the natives.

[Source: South Florida Pioneers Quarterly, Issue # 9 (July 1976)]

Polk City was incorporated in 1925 and, like the county, is named after James Knox Polk, the eleventh president of the United States.olk City is governed by a five-person council who elect a mayor and vice mayor from their membership. Haines City was platted in 1885, shortly after the South Florida Railroad reached the area[4]. The city was first known as Clay Cut, but there was no railroad station. It is said that the inhabitants persuaded the railroad company to build a station by agreeing to rename their city Haines City, to honor a senior railroad official, Colonel Henry Haines.The early settlers planted citrus groves, and citrus growing and processing became the main industry of the city.

[ Source: Wikipedia.org - Contributed by Norita Moss ]


The name Frostproof was a marketing ploy to convince potential landowners that the town has never had, and never would have, a frost that could destroy the large citrus-driven economy. However, only a couple of years later, a terrible frost killed most of the citrus in Frostproof. Prior to being named Frostproof, the town was named Keystone City. However, after being confused regularly with Keystone Heights, a city in North Florida, Frostproof was coined.

[ Source: Wikipedia.org - Contributed by Norita Moss ]

Lakeland was first settled in the 1870s and began to develop as the rail lines reached the area in 1884. It was incorporated 1 January 1885. The town was founded by Abraham Munn (a resident of Louisville, Kentucky), who purchased 80 acres of land in what is now downtown Lakeland in 1882 and platted the land for the town in 1884. Among the names considered (and rejected) for the town by its residents were Munnville, Red Bug and Rome City.

[ SourceWikipedia.org - Contributed by Norita Moss ]

Lake Alfred

The city was established soon after the South Florida Railroad reached the area in 1883[4]. It had a number of early names, including Fargo, Chubb and Bartow Junction. The name Lake Alfred was adopted in 1913, and was taken from the nearest large lake, named for Alfred Parslow, who came to Florida in 1877 and obtained a charter to build the Jacksonville, Tampa and Key West Railroad.

[ Source: Wikipedia.org - Contributed by Norita Moss ]

History of Bartow

The early 19th Century, very few people lived in Florida, especially the area south of Gainesville. Heat and humidity, dangerous wildlife, and uncharted swampland made a comfortable life in southern Florida an uncertainty. A bigger threat to any would-be settlers was the Seminoles, a Native American tribe native to Florida. While a few of the Seminole had left for Oklahoma, some decided to stay in Florida and make life rough for any new settlers who tried to make a living. After the Second Seminole War ended in 1842, southern Florida seemed ripe for settlement. Still, many felt uneasy about the continued Seminole presence in the Everglades and stories were always told about hostile encounters "not far away". So most of the early settlements in peninsular Florida were set up as forts, to discourage any Seminole attacks - just in case. In 1850, the first permanent new settlers came to the area near the headwaters of the Peas River or Peace River and established Fort Blount. This settlement was somewhat stalled by the American Civil War a decade later, although the Polk County government was established in 1861. After the war, in 1867, the county commissioners decided the county seat should be named after General Francis Bartow, the first Confederate officer to die in the war, and so, the name of Fort Blount was changed to Bartow. A few years later, thanks to land donations from Jacob Summerlin, the Polk County government was firmly established in Bartow.

[ Source: Wikipedia.org - Contributed by Norita Moss ]

The city of
Lake Wales

The land around the present city was surveyed in 1879 by Sidney Irving Wailes, who changed the name of a lake, then known as Watts Lake, to Lake Wales. The city of Lake Wales was established near the lake in 1911-12, planned by the Lake Wales Land Company. The spelling Wales was used for the city, although the lake is still generally spelt Lake Wailes.In 1925 the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad built a new line from Haines City joining lines to Everglades City. A depot was opened on this line at Lake Wales, located in central Florida, west of Lake Kissimmee and east of Tampa. The Shrine of Ste Anne des Lacs was nearby. Among the attractions in Lake Wales are Bok Tower Gardens, Chalet Suzanne, and Spook Hill, an optical illusion which makes a car in neutral appear as if it is traveling uphill (gravity hill). A commercial historic district in the heart of the old town contains important examples of architecture from the period of the Florida land boom of the 1920s.

[ Source: Wikipedia.org - Contributed by Norita Moss ]


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