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Polk County History

In the seven county Tampa Bay Area, Polk County may have the oldest useable history. A major source of income is the bones and shells of ten million year old sea dwellers. What is now Polk County was shallow water in the Cenozoic era, and thick beds of phosphate, a vital ingredient of fertilizer, remain from the fish and shellfish that died there.

More recently, Seminole Indians and settlers from a farther north region battled for control of the region. The settlers won, but not without many casualties.

No sooner had the Seminole threat been settled, and the county created by an act of the Florida Legislature in 1861, that the Civil War Started. The County Seat was chosen by Jacob Summerlin, a wealthy cattle baron who simply decreed that it would be at Fort Blount, on property Summerlin owned. Summerlin donated property and endowed a building for county government.

Throughout the war, very little in what would be called county business occurred. The first sheriff was also both tax assessor and tax collector. According to reports, "he made his lists and kept his books according to his own choice of style." Residents were not much intimidated, it seems, for this man of many parts only collected a few hundred dollars during the entire war, and he had to split that with county commissioners, who got $2.00 per day on the rare occations they met, and with the county's elected wheelmaker, who got $8.50 for each spinning wheel he made for the wife of a soldier.

After the war, the county languished, capable of producing vast amounts of citrus, strawberries and cattle, but unable to ship any of it to major markets. Finally, the coming of the railroad in 1883-1885 change the problem. Towns popped up overnight. Citrus boomed with the opening of new markets. Phosphate was now able to be shipped by rail to seaports on the coast. Goods and building materials were easier to obtain from importing.

The area grew slowly until World War II, when training facilities brought young men into the county. After the war, many of them decided to stay, and the facilities, converted into housing and civilian airfields, gave the area a needed boost. Tourism became a popular market. Polk County is home to several world famous attractions. Cypress Gardens, The Bok Tower and the Black Hills Passion Play, which is based in South Dakota but winters here.

Today, Polk County remains an almost mystical place of lakes and orange groves, of small towns and commercial centers. Squeezed between Tampa and Orlando, the area is experiencing more growth than it ever has in the past. More and More people are discovering Polk County's Charm.

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