BARTOW – Jacob Summerlin will tell you that Main Street has changed a lot since it became Bartow's downtown in 1887 but it also has changed very little, he will add. An actor playing Bartow's pioneer will host the tour as he is taking people to historic areas in Bartow on the walking tour sponsored by the Polk County History Center through a grant from the Florida Humanities Council.

“We're going to use some of the money to have a dramatic re-enactor to portray Jacob Summerlin,” said Historic Preservation Manager of the Polk County History Museum Myrtice Young.

What is more with this $1,000 grant, as people take the walking tour there is more description (and historical pictures) through their cell phone.

The Florida Humanities Council's Florida Stories was launched two years ago for which Bartow is one of the cities that originally qualified for the grant. This year Bartow got some supplemental money to do it again. There are now 20 cities in the program. The other city in Polk County that has earned this grant is Lake Wales.

The sites people will visit include Fort Blount Park, Mann Manor, Historic Oakhill Cemetery, Gen. Evander McIver Law Marker, First United Methodist Church of Bartow, Summerlin Institute, Benjamin F. Holland residence, Opera House, Main Street, Record Building, Hotel Stewart and the Polk County Courthouse (now the History Center).

Known as Florida Stories, the narrated tour goes to sites 1 1/2 half miles of the History Center, allowing visitors to walk through history on the streets of Bartow and learn what life was like in Central Florida between 1850 and the 1930s. The walking tours will start up again in September bypassing the hotter summer months.

Other cities that have earned grants include Apalachicola – The Hill, DeLand, Fernandina Beach, Fort Pierce, Fort Pierce – Lincoln Park, Islamorada, Key West, Lake Wales, Ormond Beach, Key West, Fort Pierce, Fort Pierce – Lincoln Park, Tarpon Springs, Fernandina Beach, St. Petersburg, Tallahassee and Virginia Key Beach.

While today, Bartow remains a smaller city in Florida, it has always been a center of history in the state. Because of phosphate mining, it had become a profitable area. With that, Main Street had become a bustling area. Downtown was filled with land developer businesses and livery stables. And, before the turn of the 20th century, the Opera House on Main Street had become an attraction that had a big victory party after Grover Cleveland was elected president in 1892. Where the Opera House was then, the Orpheum Theatre plans to open.

The Polk County History Center is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday at 100 E. Main St. in Bartow. Visit or call 863-534-4386 for more information on exhibits and programming. All programs and events are free and open to the public.


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