Place:Polk, Florida, United States

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source: Family History Library Catalog

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Polk County is located in the U.S. state of Florida. The county population was 602,095, as of the 2010 census. Its county seat is Bartow, and its largest city is Lakeland.

Polk County comprises the Lakeland–Winter Haven Metropolitan Statistical Area. This MSA is the 87th-most populous metropolitan statistical area and the 89th-most populous primary statistical area of the United States as of July 1, 2012.

The center of population of Florida is located in Polk County, near the city of Lake Wales.

Polk County is home to one public university, one state college, and four private universities. One Fortune 500 company, Publix Super Markets, has headquarters in the county.



the text in this section is copied from an article in Wikipedia

The first people to inhabit the area now called Polk County arrived close to 12,000 years ago during the last ice age as the first paleo-indians following big game southward reached the peninsula of Florida. By this time, the peninsula had gone through several expansions and contractions due to changing sea level; at times the peninsula was much wider than it is today, while at other times it was almost entirely submerged with only a few small islands exposed. These first paleo-indians, nomadic hunter/gatherers who did not establish any permanent settlements, eventually gave way to the "archaic people". These were ancestors of the historic Native Americans who came in contact with the Spaniards when they arrived on the peninsula. These Native Americans thrived on the peninsula. It is estimated that there were more than 250,000 in 1492 when Columbus set sail for the New World. As was common elsewhere in the Americas, contact with Europeans had a devastating effect on the Native Americans. Smallpox, measles, and other diseases, to which the Native Americans had no immunity, caused widespread epidemic and death.[1] Those who had not succumbed to diseases such as these were often either killed or enslaved as Spanish explorers and settlers arrived. Within a few hundred years, nearly the entire pre-Columbian population of Polk County had been wiped out.

For around 250 years after Ponce De Leon arrived on the peninsula, the Spanish nominally ruled Florida but established few settlements. In the late 17th century, Florida went through an unstable period in which the French and British ruled the peninsula. By this time, the remnants of early Native Americans joined with refugee Creek Native Americans from Georgia and The Carolinas to form the Seminole Indian Tribe, through a process of ethnogenesis.[1]After the American Revolution, the peninsula briefly reverted to Spanish rule. In 1819, Florida became a U.S. territory as a result of the Adams-Onis Treaty. From the 1830s until 1842, the US conducted the Seminole Wars in an effort to remove the Seminole from the territory. Some were removed to Indian Territory, but others retreated to the Everglades and never surrendered.

While Florida gained statehood in 1845, it was not until 1861 that Polk County was created from the eastern part of Hillsborough County. It was named in honor of former US President James K. Polk, whose 1845 inauguration was on the day after Florida became a state.

Following the Civil War, the county commission established the county seat on donated in the central part of the county. Bartow, the county seat, was named after Francis S. Bartow, a Confederate colonel from Georgia who was the first Confederate brigade commander to die in battle. Colonel Bartow was buried in Savannah, Georgia with military honors, and promoted posthumously to the rank of Brigadier General. The original name of the town was Fort Blount. Several other towns and counties in the South changed their name to Bartow. The first courthouse built in Bartow was constructed in 1867. It was replaced twice, in 1884 and in 1908. As the third courthouse to stand on the site, the present structure houses the Polk County Historical Museum and Genealogical Library.

After the Civil War, some 400 Confederate veterans settled here with families before the end of the century.

Post-Reconstruction era to World War II

In the post-Reconstruction period, black railway workers were among the first African Americans to settle in Polk County, in 1883 south of Lake Wire. The following year they founded St. John's Baptist Church, which also served as the first school for freedmen's children. Other workers arrived for jobs in the phosphate industry. This area became the center of a predominately African-American community later known as Moorehead, after Rev. H.K. Moorehead, called to St. John's in 1906. The community developed its own businesses, professional class, and cultural institutions. Its students had to go to other cities for high school until 1928, when the first upper school to serve blacks was established here.[2]

White violence rose against blacks in the late 19th century in a regionwide effort to establish and maintain white supremacy as Southern states disenfranchised most blacks and imposed Jim Crow. Whites lynched 20 African Americans in Polk County from 1895-1921; Three black men whose names were not recorded were murdered in a mass lynching on May 25, 1895, accused of rape. While others were killed for alleged crimes (never proven), one black man was lynched for supposedly insulting a white woman. The man, Henry Scott was a porter on a train from Lakeland to Bartow. While he was preparing a berth for one woman on May 20, 1920, another white woman became angry that he made her wait. She sent a telegram to the next station where he was met by a sherriff, arrested, and then turned over to a mob that shot him 40-t0 times. Columbia County also had 20 such lynching murders; these two counties had the second-highest total of lynchings of African Americans of any county in the state.

In the first few decades of the 1900s, thousands of acres of land around Bartow were purchased by the phosphate industry. The county seat became the hub of the largest phosphate industry in the United States, attracting both immigrants and African-American and white workers from rural areas.[3]

Polk County was the leading citrus county in the United States for much of the 20th century, and even the county seat Bartow has had several large groves. In 1941, the city built an airport northeast of town in the county. The airport was taken over by the federal government during World War II and was the training location for many Army Air Corps pilots during the war.[4] The airport was returned to the city in 1967 and renamed as Bartow Municipal Airport.[4]

Mid-20th century to present

In the 20th century, the Ku Klux Klan revived and was active in Polk County, even after World War II. Klansmen were photographed in hoods and robes in 1958 in a church in Mulberry.[5] During the 1960s violence related to civil rights movement was attributed to the Klan; in 1967 a white man shot and severely wounded a popular African-American high school football player who was integrating Lake Ariana Beach.[5] A Klan group marched in Lakeland in full regalia in 1979, their last public march by the Confederate monument in Munn Park.[5]

Since the late 20th century, growth in Polk County has been driven by its proximity to both the Tampa and Orlando metropolitan areas along the Interstate 4 corridor. Recent growth has been heaviest in Lakeland (closest to Tampa) and the Northeast areas near Haines City (nearest to Orlando). From 1990 to 2000, unincorporated areas grew 25%, while incorporated areas grew only 11%. In addition to cottage communities that have developed for commuters, Haines City has suburban sprawl into unincorporated areas. Despite the impressive growth rate, the unemployment rate of Polk has typically been higher than that of the entire state. For example, in August 2010, the county had an unemployment rate of 13.4%, compared to 11.7% for the entire state.[6]

During the 2004 Atlantic hurricane season, three hurricanes, Charley, Frances and Jeanne all tracked over Polk County, intersecting in a triangle that includes the city of Bartow.

Winter Haven was best known as the home of the Cypress Gardens theme park, which operated from 1936 to September 23, 2009. Legoland Florida has since been built on the site of former Cypress Gardens, and has preserved the botanical garden section. Winter Haven was the location of the first Publix supermarket circa 1930; today Publix's corporate offices are located in Lakeland. Country musician Gram Parsons was from a wealthy family in Winter Haven.

In 2018 the Lakeland City Commission voted to move the Confederate monument, installed in 1910 at Munn Park in Lakeland, to Veterans Memorial Park. This was the location of the original African-American community of Moorehead, which was first settled in 1883. Owners were bought out in 1967 by eminent domain for county civic development of a conference center and the later Veterans Memorial Park. Some members of the black community have objected to the Confederate monument being relocated to the land of what had been their historic community in Lakeland, saying it would be more appropriate to be located in the cemetery with numerous Confederate graves.


Date Event Source
1667 Court records recorded Source:Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources
1861 County formed Source:Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources
1861 Probate records recorded Source:Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources
1862 Land records recorded Source:Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources
1862 Marriage records recorded Source:Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources
1870 First census Source:Population of States and Counties of the United States: 1790-1990
1880 No significant boundary changes after this year Source:Population of States and Counties of the United States: 1790-1990
1892 Birth records recorded Source:Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources

Population History

source: Source:Population of States and Counties of the United States: 1790-1990
Census Year Population
1870 3,169
1880 3,181
1890 7,905
1900 12,472
1910 24,148
1920 38,661
1930 72,291
1940 86,665
1950 123,997
1960 195,139
1970 227,222
1980 321,652
1990 405,382


Cemeteries of Polk County, Florida, United States

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