Air Force One has landed: Presidential visits to Polk County, FL

Take a walk down Pennsylvania Avenue memory lane.

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President Jimmy Carter greeted by former Lakeland mayor Carrie Oldham as he arrives at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport for a campaign appearance in the city. | Photo via Lakeland Public Library

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Lakelanders know the charm of Swan City, and so do several US presidents who have visited the area on official business and for leisure for nearly 100 years.

Though we may be 900+ miles away from the nation’s capital, our city has its fair share of close ties to the White House — beginning with the fact that Polk County was named after President James Knox Polk of Tennessee.

We present you with this timeline of presidential visits to LAL.

Presidential visits to LAL

Grover Cleveland (#22, #24)
Polk County’s first presidential visit came by way of a fishing trip for President Grover Cleveland in 1894. While his destination was actually just south of Polk County, President Cleveland passed through Lakeland’s railroad station. He was greeted by the Lakeland Brass Band, comprised of 13 boys and men (including at least three very impressive 19th century handlebar mustaches).

Calvin Coolidge (#30)
In 1929, President Coolidge was the second president to visit Polk County. He spoke at the dedication of Bok Tower Gardens and signed the guest register, which can still be seen today. At the bottom of the gardens’ sundial, visitors can read a line from his speech, “...dedicated and presented for the visitation of the American people.”

Jimmy Carter (#39)
President Carter became the second US president to spend a day in Lakeland. The last-minute trip happened during his bid for re-election in 1980, and his campaign rally was held at the RP Funding Center (back then known as the Lakeland Civic Center).

George W. Bush (#43)
During his campaign in 2004, President Bush made two stops in Polk County as he and his challenger, US Sen. John Kerry were seeking to get the state’s 27 electoral votes.

Barack Obama (#44)
Then-Senator Barack Obama made an “off-the-schedule-visit” to Lakeland during his first presidential campaign in 2008. He talked with various salespeople and small business owners about Florida facing its first recession in 16 years and that strengthening home sales and repairing the mortgage market were keys to recovery.

Donald Trump (#45)
Just under a month before the 2016 election, President Trump visited Lakeland by making a stop at Lakeland Linder International Airport. He spent a large portion of his campaign traveling to battleground states like Florida. He addressed the crowds on the tarmac after stepping out of his private airplane by saying, “What a group. What a great state.”

Other Presidential ties

Zachary Taylor (#12)
When Zachary Taylor was a colonel in the US Army, he served in today’s Polk County during the Second Seminole War. Taylor founded Fort Fraser — south of what is now Lakeland.

Theodore Roosevelt (#26)
After he was president, Theodore Roosevelt addressed Lakelanders in Munn Park in 1917 to discuss the world war.

Mike Pence (#48)
Between Central Florida rallies, VP Mike Pence made a recent visit to Lakeland. VP Pence stopped at Reececliff Family Diner and paid respects to the family of Lakeland Police Officer Paul Dunn.

President Richard Nixon’s parents
While Richard Nixon was serving as VP to Eisenhower, his parents, Frank and Hannah Nixon, called 1026 E. Walnut St. in Lakeland home.

Jill Biden
Jill Biden (wife of Joe Biden) visited LAL in 2008 to speak to supporters in the Lake Hollingsworth room at The Lakeland Center.

Phillip Zedonek
While completing a master’s degree in communication at Florida State University, Phillip Zedonek was approached with a unique opportunity to serve his nation. From 1978 to 1982, Zedonek worked as the Army Signal Corps communications specialist under both Presidents Carter and Reagan. He also supervised the JROTC program at George Jenkins High School for seven years after he retired from the military.

Bonus: Pics of Polk County residents with presidents
Scroll through these 21 photos of Polk County residents with presidents.

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