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Acton, Florida: Lakeland’s nemesis of the early days

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Polk County Map, 1887 | Screenshot via Florida Memory

Table of Contents

Let’s play a game of “whodunnit.” Who do you think started the fire at the Acton railroad depot?

Was it Abraham Munn, at Lake Parker with a candlestick?

You decide.

What we know

The town of Acton, named after English historian, John Dalberg-Acton (1834-1902), was situated within just one square mile between Lake Parker and Bonny Lake. The town took off in the late 1800s due to a boom in the sale of Acton’s acreage in England, leading multiple families from across the pond to establish the town in 1883. Just one year later, in 1884, the town was established, thus, Lakeland’s early nemesis was born.

The town faced many firsts before Lakeland did, such as housing the first church and the now notorious, railroad depot. Because Lakeland wasn’t incorporated officially until Jan. 1, 1885, the two dueling destinations had a sort of rivalry throughout the early stages of their growth. And today, Acton is still referred to as “a rival town,” or Lakeland’s “arch-nemesis” due to its growth.

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Acton, FL | Screenshot via Lakeland Public Library

What put Acton on the map

The railroad depot, at the time, left Acton just a notch above Lakeland as it was a stop on the South Florida Railroad line. This stop put Acton on the map as one of the three Citrus-Belt cities alongside Sarasota and Mackinnon.

Quick Facts

While most of Acton’s history vanished when it did, much of what we know today is limited. So, here’s some of what is certain, at least, according to Webb’s Historical, Industrial, and Biographical Florida magazine (issued 1885):

• “The Town of Acton is on the South Florida Railroad, just halfway between Tampa and Kissimmee, being about 33 miles from each.”
• “It is beautifully situated between Lake Parker and Bonnie Lake…”
• “The South Florida Railroad runs straight through the centre of the town, the depot being in the middle of the public square.”
• “There are two hotels open all the year round – The Acton House and Lake House. There are two large stores, a saloon, several good dwelling-houses, a schoolhouse, and a saw-mill…”

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All Saints Episcopal Church, circa 1920 | Screenshot via Lakeland Public Library

What’s left today

All that’s left of Acton, as far as we can tell, is All Saints Episcopal Church, built in the late 1880s as “All Saints” on today’s E. Gary Rd. After Acton’s decline, and a harsh winter in 1890, the church closed for three years until it was moved out of the town, to Massachusetts Ave., where it now resides.

The demise of the town of Acton came about in the late 1880s when the booming railroad depot burned to the ground under what The City of Lakeland calls “mysterious circumstances.” With Lakeland’s brand new, bigger, and more modern stop, Acton soon withered away by the year 1906, when it was nothing but a memory.

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