The year was 1928 and M. F. Hetherington was the retired publisher of the Lakeland Evening Telegram.
It was this year that he published “The History of Polk County” — a 379 page compilation of early Polk history and biographical information of some of the county’s leading citizens.
The following are interesting notes gleaned from the book.
In May of 1882, local boosters were again wanting to encourage immigration. A meeting was held in Bartow and immigration, a descriptive informational pamphlet and railroad matters were on the agenda. Committees were established to move forward.
The Bartow newspaper published information about how people could come to Polk County. Information included, “Persons have the choice of four methods of reaching Polk County. The first baby team on the common roads; and we believe that all persons living in any of the Southern States, within 800 miles of us, would do best to adopt the old method of the road wagon to bring such articles of furniture, etc., as are actually needed; then they have their stock, wagons, etc., when they get here, and mules and wagons, harness, etc., are always expensive here.”
Other travel suggestions included via water and rail to Tampa or Sanford, but always by “personal conveyance the final 50 to 70 miles.”
Throughout 1882 and into 1883 more than $500,000 worth of property was sold — more than the entire tax evaluation from two years earlier. During the same time frame, 500,000 orange trees were set out in the county and the population grew from 3,500 in 1880 to 6,000. It was during this period that the Southern Railway was under construction through the county.
In February 1883, the county was reported out of debt with “some money” in the bank. Polk was enjoying a “boom” of sorts, with property values increasing “five hundred fold.” There were many new homes, additions and a broad cross section of new businesses. Bar rooms closed upon the expiration of their licenses in 1883 but the book notes, “there was evidence of sly dealings in alcoholic drinks.”
In October 1883, bids were let for the construction of a new courthouse at a cost of $9,000. In March of 1884, the old courthouse was sold for $100 — and that was considered a fair price!
In March of 1885, all streets (including some that didn’t exist except on paper) were christened as platted with the name “Winter Haven.”
After a vigorous campaign concerning the sale of alcohol, the county voted to go dry on September 1, 1887. The vote was 341 for selling and 839 against.
In 1887, the county taxes were set at 18 mills. That same year “the handsomest and most substantial jail building in Florida” was completed. It was said to be so secure other county’s brought their prisoners to Polk for safe keeping.
As the decade drew to a close water transportation to Bartow was under consideration, as the Peace River was said to be navigable some three miles above Fort Meade.
This information was taken from “The History of Polk County” by M. F. Hetherington, published in 1928.
For now, this concludes our look at early Polk County.
Next week: Recollections of Biltmore Shores.
The Museum of Winter Haven History is closed for the summer. Tours are available year round for groups of four or more by appointment. Contact Bob Gernert (863) 206-6855 or email@example.com.