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Polk County Then and Now

Early History of Polk County

On paper, Polk didn’t appear in historical records until just before the Civil War. However, its history far predates its 150-year-old name by about 11,000 years – to the last ice age. During that time, the sea levels were about 350 feet lower than they are today.

It’s largely thought the area’s first inhabitants were the Paleoindians, who had reached the northern parts of Florida about 10,000 B.C. The Paleoindians made their way to the lower, interior areas of the state and along the Gulf Coast and began making permanent settlements between 9,000 and 8,500 B.C., when the glaciers began to melt.

European explorers made their Florida entrance in the 1500s, followed by various Indian tribes. Many scholars associate the county’s Native American inhabitants with the Tocobaga people of Tampa Bay and their close relatives, the Mocosos, who lived east of the bay and along the Alafia and Hillsborough rivers. The Seminole Indians, who were descendants of Georgia’s Creek Indians, didn’t settle the areas in and around Polk until the 1700s.

Polk quickly underwent a period of growth and change during the 19th century.

The county’s first courthouse was constructed in 1867 in Bartow, on land donated by cattle baron Jacob Summerlin. By the 1880s, the development of various industries, including agriculture, citrus, cattle and phosphate, and the arrival of the railroad caused a boom in land prices.

The population of the county doubled as a new wave of visitors and workers settled in Polk. Henry Plant’s South Florida Railway crossed the county and reached Tampa in 1884, linking central Florida with a massive transportation network. Locally produced goods were shipped by rail to national and international markets – Florida oranges could now reach major metropolitan areas like New York City, Philadelphia and Baltimore in less than a week. Phosphate mining also benefited from improvements in the transportation infrastructure and quickly became one of Polk County’s largest industries.

Communities sprang up across the area and a third courthouse was constructed in 1908, replacing the second built in 1884, to meet the growing needs for Polk County court services. By the 1920s, Florida had become a popular tourist destination and land prices soared, prompting a development boom in towns across the county. The 10-story Polk Hotel opened in Haines City in 1926 and Bok Tower Gardens in Lakes Wales was dedicated in 1929, an event attend by President Calvin Coolidge.

Although the Florida boom ended with the onset of the Great Depression, the 1930s also brought the creation of Florida’s first theme park in Polk County, Cypress Gardens, the opening of George Jenkins’ first Publix grocery store in Winter Haven and the building of early airfields, which served the nation during World War II.

Communities sprang up across the area and a third courthouse was constructed in 1908, replacing the second built in 1884, to meet the growing needs for Polk County court services. By the 1920s, Florida had become a popular tourist destination and land prices soared, prompting a development boom in towns across the county. The 10-story Polk Hotel opened in Haines City in 1926 and Bok Tower Gardens in Lakes Wales was dedicated in 1929, an event attend by President Calvin Coolidge.

Although the Florida boom ended with the onset of the Great Depression, the 1930s also brought the creation of Florida’s first theme park in Polk County, Cypress Gardens, the opening of George Jenkins’ first Publix grocery store in Winter Haven and the building of early airfields, which served the nation during World War II.

Today, Polk County is a leading contributor to the state’s economy and politics. Citrus, cattle, agriculture and the phosphate industry still play vital roles in the local economy, along with an increase in tourism revenue in recent years. The county’s location between the Tampa and Orlando metropolitan areas has aided in the development and growth of the area. Residents and visitors alike are drawn to the unique character of the county’s numerous heritage sites and cultural venues, stunning natural landscapes, environmental lands and many outdoor activities, making Polk the crossroads of central Florida. Visit Polk County Florida. You won’t regret it.

Today, Polk County is a leading contributor to the state’s economy and politics. Citrus, cattle, agriculture and the phosphate industry still play vital roles in the local economy, along with an increase in tourism revenue in recent years. The county’s location between the Tampa and Orlando metropolitan areas has aided in the development and growth of the area. Residents and visitors alike are drawn to the unique character of the county’s numerous heritage sites and cultural venues, stunning natural landscapes, environmental lands and many outdoor activities, making Polk the crossroads of central Florida. Visit Polk County Florida. You won’t regret it.

MEETINGS

May 22

1:00 P.M. to 2:30 P.M.

Conservation Land Acquisition Selec...

Conservation...

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May 22

8:00 A.M. to 9:30 A.M.

First Selection Committee Meeting f...

First Select...

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May 23

1:30 P.M. to 3:00 P.M.

Land Use Hearing Officer Hearings

Land Use Hea...

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May 23

9:30 A.M. to 11:00 A.M.

Transportation Planning Organizatio...

Transportati...

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May 23

8:30 A.M. to 10:00 A.M.

Development Review Committee

Development ...

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May 27

12:00 A.M. to 12:00 A.M.

Memorial Day Holiday

Memorial Day...

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May 30

2:00 P.M. to 3:30 P.M.

Annual Graduation Celebration of th...

Annual Gradu...

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May 30

8:30 A.M. to 10:00 A.M.

Development Review Committee

Development ...

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Volunteer

A community is only as strong as its residents. You can help lift Polk County up by volunteering. If you’re asking yourself, “How do I volunteer?,” start here to find volunteering opportunities.

Board of County Commissioners

The Board of County Commissioners is the governing body of Polk County. The five elected commissioners meet on the first and third Tuesday of each month. The meetings are open to the public.

Careers

Did you know that there are more than 300 unique job opportunities working for Polk County government? There is diversity here, not only in our workforce, but in the types of work that we do. From issuing building permits to performing roadway maintenance, to offering social services and office support, our workforce is more than 2,200 strong. Year after year, CareerSource Polk selects Polk County Government as one of its best places to work.



County map

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