10 interesting facts about Lakeland, FL

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Encampment near Lake Hunter, 1898 | Photo by Lakeland Public Library

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For a city bursting with personality, it’s no shock the Swan City boasts a few unusual traits. As fans of the quirky + unconventional, we put together a list of some of the most unique facts about this city. Maybe you’ve lived in Lakeland for all of your life, and you know some of these – or maybe you’ll learn something new.

But first, test yourself with our quiz to see how much you already know.

Quiz

 

You can find the correct answer in The Wrap section of today’s newsletter.

1. In preparation for the Spanish-American War, training camps accommodating 9,000 troops were set up across cities in FL, five of which were in Lakeland. It is known that Camp Morton was located at the northeast corner of Tennessee Ave. + Walnut St., and Camp Massachusetts was at the northeast corner of Massachusetts Ave. + Lake Morton Dr. 

DJ, Bill, and Elvis at the Polk Theater, 1956 | Photo by Jerry Perkins courtesy Laura Milton, Polk Theater

2. On August 6, 1956, Elvis Presley gave what will be remembered as an iconic performance at the Polk Theatre. That night, he sat in an overheated dressing room, chatting with a reporter about his “wigglin’ and quiverin’” + his nickname ‘Elvis the Pelvis.’ The three-part series from TV Guide Magazine is called “He Tells How the Little Wiggle Grew.” Read more about what the King of Rock thought of his public reception. Rumor has it that Elvis also autographed the dressing room wall during his visit, which was later damaged by flooding. Read more about that night here.

3. The Frank Lloyd Wright architecture at Florida Southern College was built in part by students who couldn’t afford to go to college. In 1938, FSC president Dr. Spivey reached out to Wright about re-energizing + expanding the campus. Their collaborated solution involved having students work their way through school by helping build Wright’s designs. See the full story here.

4. In 1894, Polk County was the world’s leader in the production of phosphate, accounting for almost a third of the mineral processed anywhere. Nearly three-fourths of it were used in the U.S., Japan being the largest foreign consumer. (A Guide to Historic Lakeland)

Opening the new terminal at Miami for Pan American World Airways featuring Ruth Elder (in white) and Amelia Earheart | Photo by Florida Photographic Collection

5. Two Lakeland residents nearly made aviation history. On October 11, 1927, Ruth Elder and George William Haldeman Sr. left from Long Island, NY in their Stinson Detroiter monoplane on an attempt to make Elder the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. For nine hours of the flight, Elder was at the controls. They were nearly finished with their flight to Paris when a ruptured oil line forced them to ditch the plane in the water, 336 miles off the coast of Spain, where they were rescued by the Dutch oil tanker Barendrecht. Although they did not make it all the way across the Atlantic, their over-water, 36-hour course of 2,623 miles set a new distance record.

6. Built in 1909 on the foundations of the original courthouse, the Old Polk County Courthouse in Bartow dates back to the early 1880s. Haunted claims at this location include screams from the basement, apparitions appearing on the second-floor rotunda (supposedly of the Mann brothers), a “Lady in White” on the 2nd floor + numerous cold spots on the first floor. Read more about the haunted landmarks in Polk County here.

Hungarian Inn | Image via The Ledger

7. DYK there was once a Hungarian Inn in Lakeland? K-Ville was situated beside State Rd. 542 and originally started out in the 1920s as an inn for visitors either passing through or exploring the area for potential livability. In 1927, it turned into a restaurant and was popular during the ‘30s + ‘40s serving a limited menu of chicken and steak. Multiple owners later, the building was demolished in the ‘70s.

8. Before Lakeland was officially called Lakeland (1885), our city was proposed with three other names. Here’s a brief summary: Munnville would have been given in honor of Abraham Munnone of the town’s founders, owner of 80 acres of land + persuader of the South Florida Railroad making a stop in Lakeland. Redbug was proposed due to the existence of chiggers, Harvest mites found throughout the world, but mostly in hot + humid places like Florida. Rome City was the final name suggestion, one that no one still cannot explain why.

Photo by Lakeland Public Library

9. DYK swans have been around Lakeland for nearly a century now? The earliest records date back to 1923 (the same year of the Yankee stadium grand opening + Time Magazine’s first issue). In the 1950s, the swans slowly disappeared and Queen Elizabeth received a request to donate two royal swans, after which Lakeland raised money to have more swans transported overseas. Read the full story here.

10. In 1927-28, John E. Melton started to transform a downtown commercial structure into what we now know as the Polk Theatre. When running into financial difficulty, he sold the project to Publix Theatre Corporation. The red brick exterior (described as Neo-Adamesque) had an Italian Renaissance appearance popular in New York in the 1920s. The auditorium was cooled by a one-hundred-ton air wash system, which initially drew so much power that just turning it on caused lights to dim in the town of 15,000. (A Guide to Historic Lakeland)

There’s so much more we could share about all the things that make Lakeland what it is today, but we decided to save that for another time. After all, there are only so many facts one can retain. 

Is there a historic secret you know about our city? Share it with us. We can’t promise we’ll keep it on the DL. 🤞

– LALtoday team (Jessica + Kaylee)