Polk County is strategically located in the center of the Florida peninsula, about equal distance from the east and west coast and half way between the Georgia-Florida border and the Southern tip of the peninsula. Polk lies on the Interstate-4 corridor, 25 miles east of Tampa and 35 miles southwest of Orlando. As the geographic center of Florida, it is estimated that more than 7.5 million people reside within a 100 mile radius of Polk County. This is one of the largest concentrations of population in the southeast.
Polk County became Florida's 39th county on February 8, 1861, when the State of Florida divided Hillsborough County into eastern and western halves. The eastern half was named Polk, in honor of the 11th President of the United States, James Knox Polk. Following the Civil War, the county commission established the county seat on 120 acres 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 officer to die in battle during the first battle of the Civil War. Col. Bartow was buried in Savannah, GA with military honors, and promoted posthumously to the rank of brigadier general. Fort Blount , as Bartow was then known, in a move to honor one of the first fallen heroes of the Confederacy, was one of several towns and counties in the South that 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.
Polk County is larger than the state of Rhode Island and equal in size to Delaware. The total area of the county is approximately 2,010 square miles which makes it the fourth largest county in Florida, exceeded only by Dade, Palm Beach, and Collier counties. Polk County has 554 natural freshwater lakes which occupy approximately 135 square miles, or over seven percent of the total area of the county. The total land area of Polk County is approximately 1,875 square miles.
Polk County's total population estimate for 2005 was 541,840 (an increase of 12 percent from the 2000 U.S. Census count of 483,924). This represents an average annual growth rate of 2.4 percent or an average annual increase of 11,583 persons. Polk ranks as the eighth most populous of Florida's of 67 counties. Polk's total population is expected to grow to an estimated 587,600 by 2010 and 675,000 by 2020.
Polk County's population in 2004 was estimated to be 528,389. In terms of numerical population change between 2000–2004, Polk ranked 12th in the state but ranked 32nd over this same period for percent of change (9.2%). Approximately 61.8 percent of Polk County's total population resides in the unincorporated area of the county. The other 38 percent of the population live in Polk County's 17 cities. Polk County's largest city is Lakeland , with a 2004 population of 89,731, followed by Winter Haven with a population of 27,885. Other municipalities include: Auburndale, Bartow, Davenport, Dundee, Eagle Lake, Fort Meade, Frostproof, Haines City, Highland Park, Hillcrest Heights, Lake Alfred, Lake Hamilton, Lake Wales, Mulberry, and Polk City.
The median age of Polk's population in 2001, was estimated to be 38.6 years old with 18.45 percent of the total population 65 years old or older. Persons under the age of eighteen represented 24.3 percent of the County's total population. In fact, population growth between 1990 and 2000 was primarily fueled by people in the age range of 35 to 54, which accounted for 43.6% of the entire increase over this period. There were approximately 85,300 students enrolled in Polk County's public schools (kindergarten through 12th grade) for the 2004-2005 school year. An estimated 7,600 students attend private schools and another 3,531 students in Polk County are taught at home.
A major portion of northern Polk County, approximately 220,000 acres, is known as the “Green Swamp.” For the past 30 years, this area has received considerable attention at local, regional, and state levels due to its importance as a significant water resource for the state. In 1978, the Florida Legislature designated the area, including 115,000 acres in Lake County, as an Area of Critical State Concern, pursuant to State Law (Section 380.05, Florida Statutes). This area is not a swamp in the typical sense – it is a series of wetlands, flat lands, and sand hills dispersed over a total area of some 850 square miles which support agriculture, wildlife habitat, conservation areas, and rural residential development. It is actually a high, poorly-drained plateau that acts as a water retention area which feeds several major rivers in the state, including the Peace, Withlacoochee, Oklawaha, and Hillsborough Rivers . In addition to feeding these major river systems, the Green Swamp also plays an important role in maintaining the vast fresh water supply of the Floridan Aquifer. For these reasons, Polk County has adopted special regulations for any development within this area. These regulations can be found in Chapter 5 of the Land Development Code and Appendix 2.132 of the Comprehensive Plan.
For more information on the Green Swamp , go to:
Recreation and Leisure
Polk County contains a total of 4,303 acres of public parkland which is owned and managed by both the county and municipalities. The Board of County Commissioners owns and manages approximately 2,461 acres of this total parkland acreage. Lake Kissimmee State Park, which consist of 48,156 acres, is also located in Polk County . In addition to public parks, Polk has over 100,000 acres of pastoral lands open to the public for resource-based recreation such as fishing, boating, hunting, nature study, bird watching, and similar passive recreation pursuits. With 554 natural, freshwater lakes and numerous rivers and flooded phosphate pits, Polk County is a haven for the boating and fishing enthusiast. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission estimates that over 74,000 people fish Polk County's lakes annually. Pleasure boating is also a popular outdoor activity. According to the Polk County Tax Collector's Office, there were approximately 26,300 boats registered in Polk County as of June 30, 1999. Polk County owns and maintains 53 boat ramps and municipalities own an additional 34 boat ramps. Together, these boat ramps provide public access to 88 lakes. Polk County has long been recognized as the “Water Ski Capital of the World,” due in large measure to its hundreds of accessible fresh water lakes. For the golfing enthusiast, Polk has 32 public and 13 private golf courses located throughout the County.
Arts & Culture
In Central Florida's Polk County
Central Florida's Polk County is sprinkled with art and culture. Enjoy a play or catch an independent movie at one of the area's unique theaters. Admire everything from pre-Columbian artifacts to modern art at the The Polk Museum of Art, and then color your visit with more creativity at the Lake Wales Arts Center.
Cost of Living
Polk County ranked below the state average in cost of living, according to the 2003 Florida Price Level Index. Polk's index of 95.74 indicated that it's cost of living was 4.26 below the state average of 100.00 and ranked 33rd out of Florida's 67 counties.
In 2004, the average unemployment rate in Polk County was 5.5 percent, a 0.5 percent reduction from 6.0 percent unemployment in 2003. The average labor force in 2004 was approximately 247,821 workers.
The 2003 average wage in Polk was $30,224, about 8.80 percent below the state average of $34,328. Between 1990 and 2000, diversification of Polk's economy helped to increase the annual average wages by 44 percent (inflation was 32% over the same period).
Polk County has a number of public and private employers with employmentin excess of 1,000 workers. Many prominent companies are also headquartered in Polk County with operations across Florida and in surrounding states. The top non-government employers in Polk County with 1,000 employees or more include Publix Supermarkets, Walt Disney World, Wal-Mart, Lakeland Regional Medical Center, Mosaic (phosphate company), Winter Haven Hospital, Geico Insurance, State Farm Insurance, Watson Clinic, GC Services, and Florida's Natural Growers. About 26,255 people are employed in retail jobs in Polk County. Job growth in Polk County during the decade of the 1990's did not occur in the traditional industries. Instead, job growth in Polk began to mirror national trends and those trends were more closely aligned with those in urbanized areas of Florida . This reflects a new emerging economy, from 1990 to 2000, with job growth concentrated in the services and retail industries.
ROMANCE OF THE ORANGE
| Golden "apples" ...orange blossoms...Fountain of Youth...the very atmosphere of "Orange Land" breathes of romance! And so this lucious fruit has ever been connected with romance in its varied meanings. The ancient trees of Spain---many of them still bearing at five hundred years of age---the bringing of the golden balls to Florida and the beginnings of the great industry---all make a story full of thrills and interest.|
In Greek mythology there was a certain garden of gods in which grew the "golden apple" -- symbolic of love and fruitfulness, and it was believed those blessings were bestowed upon those who had the good fortune to come into possession of this fruit.
The golden apples were really oranges, the word "orange" having come down to us through many languages from Sanskrit "Narranga." It was the famous Roman naturalist, Pliny, who gave the name of citrus to the fruit, which technically is a berry produced by an evergreen tree.
The Malay Archipelago is given the honor by researchers for having been the original home of the orange. At a very early date it spread to southern China, Japan, India, Syria and Arabia, and about the 10th century was introduced by the Arabs through the Mediterranean countries into Spain, from thence it has spread to practically all the warmer climes of the world. It was undoubtedly the Spanish explorers who introduced the orange into the new world---it may have been by the courtly Ponce de Leon, who first landed in Florida in 1513. At any rate, Florida was the first home of the orange in America, where it has been growing for over three hundred years.
It was the wild orange that was brought in by the Spanish explorers, who carried this fruit with them on shipboard as an anti-scurvy measure. The seeds were thrown upon the coast, took root, grew and bore fruit. The native Indians recognized the fruit as being medicinal and it became quite popular with them, so much so that the seed was carried throughout Florida and planted wherever the Indians set up camp. Some of the trees planted by the later Seminoles are still living and bearing---the trees having been planted in irregular groups and now in rows as is now the custom. Great advancements in the scientific development of oranges has taken place since those days.
HISTORY OF THE GRAPEFRUIT
| The grapefruit is a comparatively recent member of the citrus family, having been developed in Florida. After a great deal of experimentation, abut 1884 some famous eastern doctors shipped the first grapefruit to New York for some of their patients. It derives its name from its tendency to grow in clusters like grapes, over 75 grapefruit having been known to grow on one small, tough branch, resembling a huge bunch of yellow grapes. Growers now "discourage" this tendency through scientific cultivation so that each fruit may have a better chance for symmetrical maturity.|
HABITS OF GROWTH
| Some orange trees in Florida are over 100 years of age and still bearing delicious fruit, but mot of the twenty million orange and grapefruit trees are much younger, and the greatest development of the citrus industry has taken place in the last 25 years.|
It is a very fascinating and interesting industry, from the planting of the little stick-like trees up through the fifth year (the beginning of commercial bearing) and on through the picking and preparation for market. The growing of the fruit is a science requiring intelligent and systematic work, but it is said that no tree responds so readily to good care as the orange or grapefruit.
There are early, mid-season and late varities of both the orange and grapefruit, making a ripening period extending from the early fall to June. The blossom time usually begins in February and extends through April, though there is also a lighter bloom in June. It is a very usual and beautiful sight to see the golden fruit, the little green "marbles" and the fragrant white orange blossoms all on the same tree at the same time.
CULTIVATION OF CITRUS IN POLK COUNTY
| The soil, the altitude and the climatic conditions of Polk County have been found to be ideal for the growing of citrus fruit. "Imperial Polk" is located in about the geographic center of the state and it contains much high ground and over 1000 lakes. The elevation provides excellent air drainage and the lakes temper the occasional cold spells so that frost dnger is at a minimum in Polk County.|
Also in this section of the state there is a little rain practically every day during the summer months, caled "The Season of Summer Showers," just the time when citrus fruit needs moisture. So that with the occasional shower during the fall and winter, irrigation is rarely needed saving a big cost in production.
The highest point in the state is in Polk County, according to the U.S.Coast and Geodetic Survey: it is Iron Mountain, the hill-top on which is located the beautiful Mountain Lake Sanctuary and Singing Tower from which place one gets a fine panorama of groves, for around here one may look down rows of orange trees from one to three miles long.
Polk County produces from one third to one half of the output of grapefruit of the entire state. According to the Florida Grower, May 1930 issue, for the ten year period from 1919 to 1928 Florida shipped an average of 30 percent of the oranges produced in the United States and over 90 percent of the grapefruit.
Located in Polk County on Alt. U.S. Highway 27, minutes south of the Osceola County line, Davenport is a community of approximately 1,924 and is southwest of Orlando between Kissimmee and Winter Haven near Lake Tohopekaliga and Lake Marion. Davenport is ideally situated for growth. The town's location in the area of I-4 and U.S. Highway 27 is highly conducive to expansion.
With land area of 1.6 square miles and an elevation of 136 feet, the community is 3.8 miles from Haines City and 9.7 miles from Kissimmee. It's about 28 miles from the Orlando International Airport, 49 miles from the Sanford Airport and 32 from the Lakeland Regional Airport. The rolling hills of the Lake Wales Ridge, stretching south for about 100 miles from this point in northeast Polk, provide an idyllic setting for the town of Davenport.
Davenport was developed in the 1920's by Holly Hill. The citrus processing company subdivided former groves into a landscaped community with a Mediterranean theme. One tradition says the community was named after Col. William Davenport, while another says it was named for a railroad conductor. Although a quiet, small town Davenport is nonetheless in the center of a booming residential area. The rapid expansion of the Disney complex just to the north, coupled with thousands of vacant acres of land formerly used for citrus production, have drawn dozens of new subdivisions to the area.
Heart of Florida Regional Medical Center is a state-of-the-art acute care hospital, dedicated to providing the highest level of care possible. This 25 million dollar facility features 75 inpatient beds, plus 8 short stay observation beds. A Diagnostic Imaging Department that offers MRI, CT Scanning, Angiography, Ultrasound, Nuclear Medicine and Diagnostic X-Rays; a full service Laboratory; a Cardiopulmonary Department, and a brand new state-of-the-art Cardiac Catheterization/Vascular suite. In addition, over 120 highly qualified doctors and specialists offer top-notch care in such areas as Cardiology, Orthopedics, Pediatrics, Urology and other specialties.
|Loughman Oaks Elementary School opened to relieve crowding problems at Davenport Elementary.
Davenport provides a variety of recreational opportunities to its citizens, including a public swimming pool, four ball fields, two tennis courts and basketball complexes, and two childrens parks with playground equipment. Davenport also offers summer youth recreation and adult sports programs.
Colleges/universities with over 2000 students:
- POLK COMMUNITY COLLEGE (about 12 miles; WINTER HAVEN, FL)
- TRAVIS TECHNICAL CENTER (about 27 miles; LAKELAND, FL)
- VALENCIA COMMUNITY COLLEGE (about 31 miles; ORLANDO, FL)
- ROLLINS COLLEGE (about 35 miles; WINTER PARK, FL)
- UNIVERSITY OF PHOENIX-ORLANDO CAMPUS (about 37 miles; MAITLAND, FL)
- UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL FLORIDA (about 37 miles; ORLANDO, FL)
- SEMINOLE COMMUNITY COLLEGE (about 48 miles; SANFORD, FL)
Famous in Polk County for its annual Labor Day celebration, the Chamber throws a parade, an 8-K run, a children's run, an ugly dog show, a pie-eating contest, booths for crafts, an auction for the P.T.O., and a big barbeque at the Charles Nafziger Community Center.