Polk County, Florida

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Polk County, Florida
Bartow crths new01.jpg
Polk County courthouse in Bartow
Seal of Polk County, Florida
Map of Florida highlighting Polk County
Location in the state of Florida
Map of the United States highlighting Florida
Florida's location in the U.S.
Founded8 February 1861
Largest cityLakeland (population and area)
 • Total2,009.99 sq mi (5,206 km2)
 • Land1,874.38 sq mi (4,855 km2)
 • Water135.60 sq mi (351 km2), 6.75%
 • (2010)602,095
 • Density321/sq mi (124.01/km²)
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Polk County, Florida
Bartow crths new01.jpg
Polk County courthouse in Bartow
Seal of Polk County, Florida
Map of Florida highlighting Polk County
Location in the state of Florida
Map of the United States highlighting Florida
Florida's location in the U.S.
Founded8 February 1861
Largest cityLakeland (population and area)
 • Total2,009.99 sq mi (5,206 km2)
 • Land1,874.38 sq mi (4,855 km2)
 • Water135.60 sq mi (351 km2), 6.75%
 • (2010)602,095
 • Density321/sq mi (124.01/km²)

Polk County is the fourth-largest county by area in the U.S. state of Florida. Its 2010 population was 602,095.[1] Its county seat is Bartow[2] and its largest city is Lakeland.

Polk County comprises the entire Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL Metropolitan Statistical Area. Located in central Florida along the I-4 Corridor, Polk, along with the counties to the west, is sometimes considered a part of the Tampa Bay Area. However, some of its northeastern communities have closer ties to the Greater Orlando metropolitan area. Polk County lies at the geographic center of the Florida Peninsula. The center of population of Florida has been in Polk County since the 1960 census and at the 2010 U.S. census was located between Fort Meade and Frostproof.[3]

Polk County is home to one public university, one state college, and four private universities. One Fortune 500 company—Publix Super Markets (106 in 2012)—has headquarters in the county.


U.S. President James Knox Polk, namesake of the county

The first people to call Polk County home arrived close to 12,000 years ago during the last ice age as the first paleo-indians following big game southward arrived on the peninsula of Florida.[4][5] 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", the ancestors of the Indians who came in contact with the Spaniards when they arrived on the peninsula. These Indians thrived on the peninsula and it is estimated that there were over 250,000 in 1492 when Columbus set sail for the New World. As was common elsewhere, contact with Europeans had a devastating effect on the Indians. Small Pox, Measles, and other diseases, to which the Indians had no immunity, caused widespread epidemic and death.[5][6] Those who had not succumbed to diseases such as Small Pox or Yellow Fever 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. The remnants of these Indians joined with refugee Creek Indians from Georgia and The Carolinas to form the Seminole Indian Tribe.[5]

For around 250 years after Ponce De Leon arrived on the peninsula, the Spanish ruled Florida. In the late 17th century, Florida went through an unstable period in which the French and British ruled the peninsula. 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.

The county was established by the state government in 1861 on the eve of the American Civil War and named after former United States president James K. Polk. Polk County was formed by dividing 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. Polk was sworn in as president on the day after Florida gained statehood on March 3, 1845; thus Polk was the earliest U.S. President to govern Florida as a state for a full presidential term.

Following the Civil War, the county commission established the county seat on 120 acres (0.49 km2) 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, GA 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.

Recent history[edit]

Growth in Polk County is driven by 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 1990-2000, unincorporated areas grew 25%, while incorporated areas grew only 11%. In addition to developing cottage communities for commuters, there is evidence in Haines City of 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.[7] In August 2010, the county had an unemployment rate of 13.4% compared to 11.7% for the entire state.[7]

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, Florida.[8]

Winter Haven was best known as the home of Cypress Gardens, a theme park that closed Sept. 23, 2009.[9] The city is now home to the theme park Legoland Florida, built on the site of Cypress Gardens. Country musician Gram Parsons was from a wealthy family in Winter Haven. Winter Haven was also home to the first Publix supermarket circa 1930, and Lakeland, Florida is where Publix's Corporate Offices are located.


According to the 2000 census, the county has a total area of 2,009.99 square miles (5,205.9 km2), of which 1,874.38 square miles (4,854.6 km2) (or 93.25%) is land and 135.60 square miles (351.2 km2) (or 6.75%) is water.[10]

Adjacent counties[edit]

Due to its size and central location in the state, Polk County shares borders with nine counties—more than any other in the state. Polk County nearly borders Orange County and is considered adjacent by many, though the two counties do not technically share a border. The counties are:

Metropolitan Statistical Area[edit]

The United States Office of Management and Budget has designated Polk County as coextensive with the Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL Metropolitan Statistical Area.[11] The United States Census Bureau ranked the Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL Metropolitan Statistical Area as the 87th most populous metropolitan statistical area and the 89th most populous primary statistical area of the United States as of July 1, 2012.[12][13]


Historical population
Est. 2012616,1582.3%
U.S. Decennial Census[14]
2012 Estimate[15]
Polk County Comparative Demographics
U.S. Census Bureau, 2006 Est.Polk County[16]Florida[17]United States[16]
Total population570,11615,982,378281,421,906
Owner-occupied housing, median value$150,400$230,600$185,200
Median household income$44,633$45,495$48,451
Families below poverty level10.5%9.0%9.8%
Bachelor's degree or higher17.8%25.3%27.0%
Foreign born10.6%18.9%12.5%
Hispanic (any race)15.4%20.1%12.8%

As of the census[18] of 2000, there were 483,924 people, 187,233 households, and 132,373 families residing in the county. The population density was 258 people per square mile (100/km²). There were 226,376 housing units at an average density of 121 per square mile (47/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 79.58% White, 13.54% Black or African American, 0.38% Native American, 0.93% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 3.82% from other races, and 1.71% from two or more races. 9.49% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. In 2000 only 37% of county residents lived in incorporated metropolitan areas.[19]

There were 187,233 households, of which 29.00% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 54.40% were married couples living together, 12.00% had a female householder with no husband present, and 29.30% were non-families. 24.10% of all households were made up of individuals, and 11.10% have someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.52 and the average family size was 2.96.

In the county the population was spread out, with 24.40% under the age of 18, 8.30% from 18 to 24, 26.40% from 25 to 44, 22.50% from 45 to 64, and 18.30% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39 years. For every 100 females there were 96.30 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 93.10 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $36,036, and the median income for a family was $41,442. Males had a median income of $31,396, versus $22,406 for females. The per capita income for the county was $18,302. 12.90% of the population and 9.40% of families were below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 19.10% were under the age of 18 and 8.10% were 65 or older.

Cities and towns[edit]

Municipalities of Polk County

According to the 2010 Census, just under 38% of the population of the county lives in one of Polk's seventeen incorporated municipalities.[20] The largest city, Lakeland, has over 97,000 residents and is located in the western edge of the county. The other core city of the metropolitan area, Winter Haven, is located in the eastern part of the county and has 34,000 residents. The county seat, Bartow, is located southeast of Lakeland and southwest of Winter Haven and has over 17,000 residents. The cities of Bartow, Lakeland, and Winter Haven form a roughly equilateral triangle pointed downward with Bartow being the south point, Lakeland the west point, and Winter Haven the east point.[21][22]

The other major cities in the county with a population over 10,000 include Haines City, Auburndale and Lake Wales. Haines City is in the northeast part of the county and has over 20,000 residents. Auburndale is located northwest of Winter Haven and Lake Wales is around 16 miles east of Bartow.




Polk County's economy is supported by a workforce of over 275,000 in 2010.[23] Traditionally, the largest industries in Polk's economy have been phosphate mining, agriculture, and tourism.[24] Professional baseball, especially major league spring training has historically been a major generator of tourist traffic for Polk County. Today only the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians remain for Spring Training. Additionally the single-A Lakeland Flying Tigers play in Joker Marchant Stadium when the Tigers return from spring training.[25]

Government and politics[edit]

The executive and legislative powers of the county are vested in the five member Board of County Commissioners. While the county is divided into five separate districts, the election is held countywide.[26] Each term lasts for four years with odd numbered districts holding elections in presidential election years, and even numbered districts holding elections two years later. Like all elected officials in the state, county commissioners are subject to recall. The commissioners elect a chairman and vice-chairman annually. The chairman then selects the chairs of each committee who work with the county manager to establish the policies of the board. The commission meets twice a month- generally every other Tuesday. Additional meetings take place as needed, but must be announced per the Florida Sunshine laws.[26]

Among the most important duties of the county commission is levying taxes and appropriations. The Ad Valorem millage rate levied by the county for county government purposes is 6.8665.[23] The commission is responsible for providing appropriations for other countywide offices including the sheriff, property appraiser, tax collector and supervisor of elections. The county and circuit court systems are also partially supported by the county budget, including the state attorneys and public defenders. A portion of the county's budget is dedicated to providing municipal level services and regulations to unincorporated areas, such as zoning, business codes, and fire protection. Other services benefit both those in municipalities and in unincorporated Polk County such as those that provide recreational and cultural opportunities.

Presidential elections results


Polk County Public Schools serves the county.

Universities and colleges[edit]

Library Cooperative[edit]

The Polk County Library Cooperative was formed October 1, 1997 through an Interlocal Agreement between the 13 municipalities with public libraries and the Board of County Commissioners. The Cooperative enables the city-owned and operated public libraries to open their doors to all residents of the county, including those in the unincorporated area.[27]

Cooperative member libraries[edit]


  • Provides the structure for members to give seamless countywide library services[27]
  • Coordinates activities, information and funding for member libraries[27]
  • Facilitates Interlibrary Loans[27]
  • Delivers materials between member libraries five days a week[27]
  • Operates a Wide Area Network linking all member libraries to shared resources and services[27]
  • Provides e-mail to and designs/houses web pages for members[27]
  • Manages e-rate program for members[27]
  • Synchronizes continuing education and staff development opportunities for members[27]

Polk County Historical & Genealogical Library[edit]

History of Library

The Polk County Historical & Genealogical Library was first established in 1937. It opened to the public in January 1940. The library was first located in the office of the County Attorney and was housed in a metal bookcase. Since then the library has been housed in several different locations within the old Polk County Courthouse. In 1968 the library hired its first full-time employee. By 1974 the library added a second employee and was moved to a new location on Hendry Street. In 1987 the library relocated once again, back to the 1908 Courthouse. The library then went under a ten year renovation process, which led to an expansion that included all three floors of the eastern wing of the Courthouse. As of 2013, the library is located in the east wing of the Historical Courthouse in Bartow. It is governed by the Polk County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) and administered by the Neighborhood Services Department and the Leisure of Services Division. The library holds one of the largest Genealogical and Historical collections in the Southeast United States. [28]

Collections and Services

The Polk County Historical & Genealogical Library currently holds over 40,000 items in the collection. The collection includes books, microfilm and periodicals that include information about the history and genealogy of the entire eastern United States. The selection of materials related to the history of Polk County contains local newspapers dated back to 1881, aerial photography to 1938, city directories to 1925 and property tax rolls to 1882. There are four full-time staff members available for assistance at the library. The library also offers local obituary searches and basic looks ups using email.[29]







See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Polk County QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau". Quickfacts.census.gov. Retrieved 2012-12-18. 
  2. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved 2011-06-07. 
  3. ^ "Florida's Population Center Migrates through History". University of Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research. Retrieved 14 August 2014. 
  4. ^ "Ancient Native". HOTOA. Retrieved 2010-09-09. 
  5. ^ a b c "Polk County History". Polk Counjty Historical Association. Retrieved 2010-09-11. 
  6. ^ Weibel, B. "Trail of Florida's Ancient Heritage". active.com. Retrieved 2010-09-09. 
  7. ^ a b "Unemployment Rate Polk County, FL". The Ledger. Retrieved 2010-10-08. 
  8. ^ Bossak, Brian H. (April 2005). ""X" Marks the Spot: Florida, the 2004 Hurricane Bull’s-Eye". Sound Waves. United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 26 March 2010. 
  9. ^ The Ledger - retrieved August 25, 2011
  10. ^ "Census 2000 U.S. Gazetteer Files: Counties". United States Census. Retrieved 2011-02-13. 
  11. ^ "OMB Bulletin No. 13-01: Revised Delineations of Metropolitan Statistical Areas, Micropolitan Statistical Areas, and Combined Statistical Areas, and Guidance on Uses of the Delineations of These Areas". United States Office of Management and Budget. February 28, 2013. Retrieved March 20, 2013. 
  12. ^ "Table 1. Annual Estimates of the Population of Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2012" (CSV). 2012 Population Estimates. United States Census Bureau, Population Division. March 2013. Retrieved March 20, 2013. 
  13. ^ "Table 2. Annual Estimates of the Population of Combined Statistical Areas: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2012" (CSV). 2012 Population Estimates. United States Census Bureau, Population Division. March 2013. Retrieved March 20, 2013. 
  14. ^ "U.S. Decennial Census". Census.gov. Retrieved July 19, 2013. 
  15. ^ "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2012". Census.gov. Retrieved July 19, 2013. 
  16. ^ a b "Polk County, Florida Fact Sheet". U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-05. 
  17. ^ "Florida Fact Sheet". U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-05. 
  18. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  19. ^ Polk County Demographic Profile (Central Florida Development Council) - retrieved June 1, 2007
  20. ^ "Census: Polk's Population Larger, More Diverse". The Ledger. Retrieved 2011-09-26. 
  21. ^ "Publication 04-39-087". University of Florida. p. 5. Retrieved 2010-10-17. 
  22. ^ "Map of Bartow, Lakeland, Winter Haven showing 'triangle'". google.com. Retrieved 2010-10-17. 
  23. ^ a b "Polk County Profile". Enterprise Florida. Retrieved 2011-10-27. 
  24. ^ "Polk's Profile". Polk County Board of County Commissioners. Retrieved 2011-10-27. 
  25. ^ http://www.centralfloridasports.com/sports/baseball.aspx
  26. ^ a b "Board of County Commissioners". Polk County Website. Retrieved 2011-09-27. 
  27. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z Polk County Cooperative
  28. ^ "About Us". Polk County Library Cooperative. Retrieved 2013-08-09. 
  29. ^ "Overview". Polk County Library Cooperative. Retrieved 2013-08-09. 
  30. ^ "Historical and Genealogical Library". Polk County Board of County Commissioners. Retrieved 2013-08-09. 

External links[edit]

Government links/Constitutional offices[edit]

Special districts[edit]

Judicial branch[edit]



Coordinates: 27°58′N 81°42′W / 27.96°N 81.70°W / 27.96; -81.70