Lakeland is a city in Polk County, Florida, part of the Tampa Bay Area, located along Interstate 4 east of Tampa. According to the 2020 U.S. Census Bureau release, the city had a population of 112,641. Lakeland is a principal city of the Lakeland–Winter Haven Metropolitan Statistical Area.
European-American settlers arrived in Lakeland from Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina in the 1870s. The city expanded in the 1880s with the arrival of rail service, with the first freedmen railway workers settling here in 1883. They and European immigrants also came because of land development opportunities with farming, citrus, cattle and phosphate industry developing. Lakeland is home to the 1,267-acre Circle B Bar Reserve.
The first Paleo-Indians reached the central Florida area near the end of the last ice age, as they followed big game south. As the ice melted and sea levels rose, these Native Americans ended up staying and thrived on the peninsula for thousands of years. By the time the first Spanish conquistadors arrived, an estimated 350,000 Native Americans were living in what is now the state of Florida. Some of these first early tribes were the Tocobago, Timucua, and Calusa.
In 1527, a Spanish map showed a settlement near the Rio de la Paz. The arrival of the Spanish turned out to be disastrous to these Native American tribes. Within 150 years, the majority of the pre-Columbian Native American peoples of Florida had been wiped out. Those who had not succumbed to diseases such as smallpox or yellow fever were either killed or enslaved. Little is left of these first Native Americans cultures in Polk County except for scant archaeological records, including a few personal artifacts and shell mounds. Eventually, the remnants of these tribes merged with the Creek Indians who had arrived from the north and became the Seminole Indian tribe.
In the 18th century Native Americans groups, collectively called "Seminoles", moved into the areas left vacant. In 1823 the United States and the various tribes in Florida signed the Treaty of Moultrie Creek, which created a reservation in central Florida that included what is now Polk County. Starting in 1832 the United States government tried to move the Seminoles in Florida west to the Indian Territory. Most of the Seminoles resisted, resulting in the Second Seminole War, 1835–1842. By the end of that war, most of the Seminoles had been sent west, with a few remnants pushed well south of what is now Polk County.
Florida became a state in 1845, and Polk County was established in 1861. After the American Civil War, the county seat was established southeast of Lakeland in Bartow. While most of Polk County's early history centered on the two cities of Bartow and Fort Meade, eventually, people entered the areas in northern Polk County and began settling in the areas which became Lakeland.
Lakeland was first settled in the 1870s and began to develop as the rail lines reached the area in 1884. Freedmen settled here in 1883, starting development of what became the African-American neighborhood of Moorehead. Lakeland was incorporated January 1, 1885. The town was founded by Abraham Munn (a resident of Louisville, Kentucky), who purchased of land in what is now downtown Lakeland in 1882 and platted the land for the town in 1884. Lakeland was named for the many lakes near the town site.
In April 1898, the Spanish–American War began and started a crucial point in Lakeland's development. While the war ended quickly and had little effect on most of the nation, the Florida peninsula was used as a launching point for military forces in the war. The then small town of Lakeland housed over 9,000 troops. The Buffalo soldiers, a Black regiment, was stationed on the banks of Lake Wire.
The Florida boom resulted in the construction of many significant structures in Lakeland, a number of which are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This list includes the Terrace Hotel, New Florida Hotel (Regency Tower, currently Lake Mirror Tower), Polk Theatre, Frances Langford Promenade, Polk Museum of Art (not a product of the 1920s boom), Park Trammell Building (formerly the Lakeland Public Library and today the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce), and others. The city also has several historic districts that have many large buildings built during the 1920s and 1940s. The Cleveland Indians held spring training there from 1923 to 1927 at Henley Field Ball Park. Parks were developed surrounding Lake Mirror, including Barnett Children's Park, Hollis Gardens, and the newest, Allen Kryger Park.
The "boom" period went "bust" quickly, and years passed before the city recovered. Part of the re-emergence was due to the arrival of the Detroit Tigers baseball team in 1934 for spring training. The Tigers still train at Lakeland's Joker Marchant Stadium and own the city's Class A Florida State League team, the Lakeland Flying Tigers. In the mid-1930s, the Works Progress Administration built the Lakeland Municipal Airport.
In 1938, Florida Southern College President Ludd Spivey invited architect Frank Lloyd Wright to design a "great education temple in Florida." Wright worked on the project for over 20 years as Spivey found ways to fund it and find construction workers during World War II. Wright's original plan called for 18 structures; in total he designed 30, but only 12 were completed. Wright's textile block motif is used extensively on the campus. The concrete blocks he used are in need of restoration.
Wright titled the project Child of the Sun, describing his Florida Southern buildings as being "out of the ground, into the light, a child of the sun." It is the largest single-site collection of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in the world, and attracts 30,000 visitors each year. In 1975, the "Florida Southern Architectural District" was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In 2012, Wright's campus was designated as a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service.
World War II
At the beginning of World War II, the Lakeland School of Aeronautics—headquartered at the recently built Lakeland Municipal Airport—became part of a nationwide network of civilian flight schools enjoined for the war effort by the United States Army Air Corps.
Between 1940 and 1945, more than 8,000 Army Air Corps and Army Air Forces cadets trained on two-seater Stearman PT-17 and PT-13 biplanes at the school (renamed the Lodwick School of Aeronautics in the midst of this period).
From June 1941 until October 1942, 1,327 British Royal Air Force cadets trained at the Lakeland facility. The Lodwick School of Aeronautics closed in 1945. The airport ceased flight operations in the 1960; the site has since then housed the Detroit Tigers' "Tiger Town" baseball complex.
Geography and climate
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has an area of , of which is land and (10.90%) is covered by water. Lakeland is within the Central Florida Highlands area of the Atlantic coastal plain, with a terrain consisting of flatland interspersed with gently rolling hills.
The dominant feature in Lakeland is the city's many lakes. Thirty-eight lakes are named, with a number of other bodies of water unnamed, mostly phosphate mine pits that eventually filled with water. The largest of these is Lake Parker, which is in size. Much of the culture of Lakeland revolves around its many lakes, and many people use the lakes as reference points in much the same way people in other towns use streets as reference points, such as "I live near Lake Beulah." In addition to Lake Parker, some of the more prominent lakes in the Lakeland area are Lake Hollingsworth, Lake Morton, Lake Mirror, and Lake Gibson.
Swans are one of the most visible features on the lakes near downtown Lakeland. They have a long history, the first swans appearing around 1923. By 1954, the swans were gone, eradicated by alligators and pets. A Lakeland resident who mourned the passing of the swans wrote to Queen Elizabeth. The royal family allowed the capture of two of the royal swans, and the swans now on the lakes of Lakeland are the descendants of the one surviving royal swan sent by the Queen.
In July 2006, Scott Lake, one of the city's lakes, was almost totally drained by a cluster of sinkholes. Later the lake partially refilled.
Lakeland, like most other parts of Florida north of Lake Okeechobee, is in the humid subtropical zone (Köppen climate classification: Cfa). Typically, summers are hot and humid with high temperatures seldom dropping below 90 °F and 70 °F for the overnight low. Like most of Central Florida, afternoon thunderstorms are the norm throughout the summer. Winters in Lakeland are drier and warm, with frequent sunny skies. High temperatures range in the mid 70s during the day, with lows in the 50s. Cold snaps drop temperatures below freezing twice a year on average.
As of 2010, 48,218 households were in the city, with 15.5% being vacant. As of 2000, 23.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 43.5% were married couples living together, 13.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 39% were individuals and nontraditional families. About 32.9% of all households were made up of individuals, and 14.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.23 and the average family size was 2.82.
As of the 2010 census, the city was 20.9% Black or African American, 70.8% White, 0.3% Native American, 1.8% Asian, 0.1% Native Hawaiian, and 2.7% were two or more races. Of the population 12.6% were of Hispanic or Latino ancestry.
In 2000, the city the population was spread out, with 21.4% under the age of 18, 10.3% from 18 to 24, 24.7% from 25 to 44, 20.6% from 45 to 64, and 23.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females, there were 86.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 82.1 males.
In 2000, the median income for a household in the city was $16,119, and for a family was $17,468. Males had a median income of $14,137 versus $9,771 for females. The per capita income for the city was $15,760. About 47% of families and 35% of the population were below the poverty line, including 97% of those under age 18 and 9% of those age 65 or over. In 2008–2012, the per capita income was $23,817 and the median household income was $40,284. Persons below the poverty line in 2008–2012 were 17.5% according to the US Census.
As of 2000, those who spoke only English at home accounted for 91% of all residents, while 9% spoke other languages at home. The most significant were Spanish speakers who made up 6.4% of the population, while German came up as the third-most spoken language, which made up 0.8%, and French was fourth, with 0.5% of the population.
In 1913, the Wolfson family arrived from Lithuania and became the first Jewish settlers to the area. After some struggles, the Jewish community in Lakeland flourished and the first synagogue, Temple Emanuel opened in 1932.
The Rohr Jewish Learning Institute presents classes and seminars in Lakewood in partnership with Chabad of Lakeland.
Lakeland is home to the Swaminarayan Hindu Temple, which was established in 2005.
In 1994, the first and only mosque in the county was established. It was called Masjid Aisha, but is now called the Islamic Center of Lakeland.
Christianity makes up the largest religious group in Lakeland. As of 2013, an estimated 300 churches existed with an address in the city.
Lakeland is the largest city on Interstate 4 between Orlando and Tampa. Large industries in the Lakeland area are citrus, cattle, and phosphate mining. In the past few decades, tourism, medicine, insurance, transportation, and music have grown in importance.
Citrus growing dates back to the early settlers who planted trees in the area in the 1850s. After a series of freezes in counties north of Polk County, the area became the focal point for citrus growing in Florida. Although citrus is no longer the largest industry in the area, it still plays a large part in the economy of Lakeland and Polk County.
Phosphate mining is still important to the economy of Lakeland, although most of the mining now takes place farther south. The Bone Valley produced 25% of the U.S. phosphate supply.
Lakeland's largest employer is Publix Supermarkets. Publix is one of the largest regional grocery chains in the United States with over 1,200 stores across the American South. Publix employs over 6,500 people in the Lakeland area including headquarter and warehouse employees.
Lakeland is a transportation hub. FedEx Freight and FedEx Services and the Saddle Creek Corporation employ over 600 people in the area. Other large employers in the area include Amazon, GEICO, Rooms To Go, and Lakeland Regional Health.
The Lakeland History Room is a special collections archive established in 1987 housed within the Lakeland Public Library's main branch. The Lakeland History Room maintains the City's collection of historical materials as well as other locally relevant collections composed of documents, photographs, maps, building plans, audio/visual media, scrapbooks, specialty items like citrus crate labels, artwork, yearbooks, posters, and postcards. The LHR maintains a large digital collection with over 7,000 images of the city of Lakeland, its landmarks, significant historical moments, cultural institutions, and prominent citizens. The LHR provides one-on-one assistance with historic research, a history lecture series with prominent local historians, a DIY Digitizing Lab for personal material preservation, and genealogical programs and resources.
In 2019, an initiative led by Lakeland City Commissioner Phillip Walker, was first presented to the City Commission to create the City's first History and Culture Center. The project was unanimously approved by the Commission and funds were allocated for the project's construction; although, the exhibit's content design would be funded by local donations and grant funding. An advisory committee made up of educators, city officials, local business owners, and civic and community leaders, led by former Mayor Gow Fields, was established to organize and advise the City in the design, content, and construction of the exhibit. The Lakeland Public Library was eventually chosen as the location of the future exhibit space due to its central location within the city, its status as a community hub, and because it was the current home of the city's local archive, the Lakeland History Room, which would be expanded into the Lakeland History and Culture Center. Construction on the project is currently underway and it is unknown when the project will be completed.
Buildings and locations
Joker Marchant Stadium, north of downtown, hosts spring training for the Detroit Tigers, as well as their Lakeland Flying Tigers class-A Florida State League and GCL Tigers rookie-league Gulf Coast League minor league baseball teams.
RP Funding Center is also home to two indoor sports teams. The Lakeland Magic is a basketball team playing in the NBA G League and is an affiliate of the Orlando Magic. The Florida Tropics SC is an indoor soccer team playing in the Major Arena Soccer League. The Tropics organization also operates an outdoor team, the Lakeland Tropics, which competes in the Premier Development League. The Florida Tarpons were an indoor football team playing in the American Arena League for one season after relocating from Estero, Florida.
History of sports teams
In the 1980s, the Lakeland Center briefly played host to the indoor version of the Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer team. The Lakeland Center has also hosted a few hockey teams, the Lakeland Ice Warriors, the Lakeland Prowlers, and the Lakeland Loggerheads. The United States Basketball League once had a team here as well called the Lakeland Blue Ducks. Sun 'n Fun was home to Lakeland's only roller derby league, the Lakeland Derby Dames; however, the team was dissolved in November 2015.
The Lakeland Center also hosts the Florida High School Athletic Association's state basketball finals.
Government and politics
thumb|right|Former Lakeland city hall, built 1913
Lakeland is governed by a six-member city council. Four members are elected from single-member districts; the other two are elected at-large, requiring them to gain a majority of the votes. The mayor is elected.
The City of Lakeland was incorporated on January 1, 1885. The mayor is one of seven members of the City Commission, acting as the board chair and performing mostly ceremonial and procedural duties beyond the powers of the other six. Prior to 1988, the City Commission selected Lakeland's mayor from among its members. Mayors can be on the board for up to 12 years in a lifetime, or 16 years in combination with holding a regular commission position. Lakeland's first mayor was J.W. Trammell.
The first female mayor was Lois Q. Searl, who served in 1965.
The 1970 municipal election placed the first African-American on the City Commission, Dr. John S. Jackson. In 1972, he became the first black mayor for the city.
In 1980, Carrie R. Oldham became Lakeland's first African-American female mayor.
Since 1988 the mayor has been elected by the city's voters.
On September 28, 2006, Polk County Sheriff's Deputy Vernon "Matt" Williams and his K-9 partner Diogi were shot and killed after a routine traffic stop in the Wabash area of Lakeland. More than 500 police officers from a variety of law enforcement agencies joined in a search for Angilo Freeland, suspected of murdering Williams and stealing his gun. Freeland was found hiding in a rural area the next morning. Nine officers from five different law enforcement agencies surrounded Freeland and shot him when he raised Williams' stolen gun at them. A total of 110 shots were fired, and Freeland was hit 68 times, killing him instantly. Multiple investigations concluded the officers' use of force was justified. Deputy Williams and Diogi were laid to rest on October 3, 2006, after a funeral that included a one-hour-and-45-minute procession to Auburndale.
In 2021, the Lakeland Police Department hired numerous former NYPD officers. Two of the new hires failed to disclose that they had been disciplined by the NYPD, and one new hire used to work in the NYPD's notorious anti-crime units which were disbanded after high-profile scandals.
The 28 elementary schools, seven middle schools, six traditional high schools, and three magnet-choice high schools in the Lakeland area are run by the Polk County School Board.
Traditional public high schools
Magnet high schools
Traditional public middle schools
Magnet middle schools
Colleges and universities
A number of opportunities exist for higher education around the Lakeland area. Southeastern University is the largest university in the area, with undergraduate enrollment around 6200. Southeastern is affiliated with the Assemblies of God. Florida Southern College, established in 1883 and with a current undergraduate enrollment of just over 2600, is on Lake Hollingsworth. Florida Southern is the home of the world's largest single-site collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture. In July 2008, the University of South Florida's Lakeland campus was granted partial autonomy by Governor Charlie Crist and became Florida Polytechnic University. Florida Polytechnic (FLPoly) is just inside the Lakeland's northeast border at the intersection of I-4 and Polk Parkway. They also have some administrative offices on the campus of Polk State College on Winter Lake Road. FLPoly is focused on STEM degree programs, such as engineering and computer science. Both Everest University and Keiser University, two multisite, accredited universities, have locations in Lakeland. Traviss Career Center is a vocational school. Webster University offers on-site, regionally accredited graduate degree programs in business and counseling at their Lakeland Metropolitan Campus
Polk County is within the Tampa Bay television market. Charter Spectrum is the cable television franchise serving Lakeland, which offers most television stations from the Tampa Bay market, as well as WFTV, the ABC affiliate from Orlando. WMOR-TV, an independent television station, is licensed to Lakeland, with its studios in Tampa and its transmitter in Riverview.
Lakeland and Polk County are within its own radio market. Local radio stations include:
WLLD 94.1 FM is licensed to Lakeland, but has wider focus on the Tampa Bay area, with studios in St. Petersburg. WKES 91.1 FM is also licensed to Lakeland as part of the statewide Moody Radio Florida network, with studios in Seminole, near St. Petersburg. Most major stations from Tampa Bay and a few from Orlando are also available.
Print media include The Ledger, a local newspaper owned by Gannett. Patterson Jacobs Media Group publishes a magazine, The Lakelander.
Because Lakeland is the largest city on Interstate 4 between Tampa and Orlando, the city is an important transportation hub. The county nickname, Imperial Polk County, was coined because a large bond issue in 1914 enabled wide roads between the cities of Polk County.
The important freeways and highways in Lakeland today are:
In recent years, the Lakeland area has developed a number of paved, multi-use bicycle routes including the Lake-To-Lakes Trail, which runs from Lake Parker through downtown, past several lakes, ending at Lake John. Other routes include University Trail, which connects Polk State College to Florida Polytechnic University, and the Fort Fraser Trail, which runs along US Highway 98 from Polk State College to Highway 60 in Bartow.
Water and wastewater in the Lakeland area is managed by Lakeland Water Utilities, municipal water supply is treated at local water plants, T.B. Williams and C. Wayne Combee. The water is mainly supplied by wells that draw from the Floridan aquifer. Power is generated by a nonprofit public power utility, Lakeland Electric.
Lakeland Electric is a municipal utility and government department of the city of Lakeland, Florida.
Lakeland was the third city in the state of Florida to have electric lighting powered in 1891 by The Lakeland Light and Power Company after Jacksonville and Tampa. Over a decade later in 1904, citizens purchased the private light power plant for $7,500 establishing the locally owned, municipal utility known today as Lakeland Electric.
Lakeland Electric powers the city of Lakeland by two power plants, C.D. McIntosh Power Plant, coal-natural gas combined cycle plant slated to phase out in 2024, and Larsen Memorial.
The last coal unit at C.D. McIntosh Power Plant is slated to phase out in 2024 a plan presented by the Lakeland Electric staff in 2019.
Lakeland Sister Cities International (LSCI), a chapter of Sister Cities International, was formed in 1990 with Lakeland's first sister city Richmond Hill, Canada.
In popular culture
In 1990, Lakeland made its Hollywood debut when the Southgate Shopping Center was featured in the movie Edward Scissorhands. It was also used in the filming of the Judd Nelson movie Endure. Classrooms from Florida Southern College were used in the Adam Sandler comedy, The Waterboy. The Lakeland civic center also was the filming location for music video for Little Red Corvette by Prince (musician)
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