Polk County Florida

Bartow, Florida, Phosphogypsum Mountain

Hill on the Outskirts of Bartow

I spent a few days in Polk County, Florida, recently. As I drove into the city of Bartow, I was surprised to see these hills in the otherwise extremely flat lands of central Florida. To get a closer look at the hills, I turned off into a one-lane road that runs back about a half mile to the foot of one of the hills. As my car approached about a half dozen deer ran up the grass-covered hill.

When I got back to my desk, I did a little research and found the interesting website of Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute where they describe the source of these hills in their article, “Phosphate and How Florida Was Formed.” That story includes the following:

Florida is blessed with a bountiful supply of phosphate that primeval seas deposited here millions of years ago. The phosphate comes from sediment that was deposited in layers on the sea floor. The phosphate rich sediments are believed to have formed from precipitation of phosphate from seawater along with the skeletons and waste products of creatures living in the seas.

And goes on to say:

In the early 1800s, it was learned that phosphorus promotes growth in plants and animals. At first, bones, which contain the element phosphorus, were used as an agricultural fertilizer. Today, phosphate rock provides fertilizer’s phosphorus.

Those beautiful hills are actually massive piles of waste materials called phosphogypsum that are left over from the fertilizer manufacturing process. Some of those hills are as high as 200 feet and cover up to 400 acres each. 

Old Polk County Courthouse, Bartow

Old Polk County Courthouse, Bartow, Florida, now home to the Polk County Historical Museum.

Bartow is the County Seat of Polk County. One of my first stops was the old County Courthouse, that was constructed in 1908, 1909, and has been added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. I’d love it if you checked out my other courthouse photos on my photo site at AllenForrest.com.

Charlie Smith was 137 when he died

Charlie Smith was 137 when he died…at least, that’s what he claimed. And his tombstone assures that no one will forget. Wildwood Cemetery. Southwest side of, Bartow, Florida

No visit to Bartow would be complete without a visit to Wildwood Cemetery to view the grave of the country’s oldest man. (A fact that is disputed by most folks.) So, here is my photo from that visit. I found that cemetery interesting in the fact that the photo below shows how close it is to a pasture where you can see cattle grazing. A 2019 study showed that Polk County’s cattle population exceeded 60,000.

Wildwood Cemetery. Southwest side of Bartow, Florida.

Wildwood Cemetery. Southwest side of Bartow, Florida. Note the cattle grazing on the other side of the fence.

Bartow is the county seat of Polk County but Lakeland is the largest city in the county. Publix Supermarkets, an employee-owned corporation has one of its largest distribution centers in Lakeland. I shot the photo of the water tower below across the highway from its baked goods factory in Lakeland.
Note the birthday-cake design of that tower. I haven’t been there at night to see its lighted candles. If you have a shot of that tower at night, I would love to add it to this post.

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Publix Birthday Cake Water Tower

The Clonts Building in Lakeland was constructed in 1903 and is one of the city’s oldest commercial buildings. It has been home to a variety of businesses over the years and its distinctive tower has become a city landmark.

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Clonts, 1903 Building

Occasionally, as I travel around the southeastern United States, I run across an old outdoor movie theater that is still in operation. I try to photograph those theaters when I see them. Below is a drive-in on the outskirts of Lakeland.  Established in 1948, The Silvermoon is the last remaining drive-in of Polk County, Florida.

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Silver Moon Drive-In, Lakeland

Another interesting stop in Polk County is at the Mulberry Phosphate Museum in the town of Mulberry. Unearthed in 2012 during phosphate mining operations, this Manchester steam locomotive from the 1880s that was used in transporting phosphate rock is now displayed at the Mulberry Phosphate Museum.

Manchester 4-4-0 steam locomotive from the 1880s

Manchester 4-4-0 steam locomotive from the 1880s

I stopped in the Polk County small city of Fort Meade to check out the Fort Meade Historical Museum where I shot these photos of old farm equipment including the two below.

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McCormick Dearing 10-20 Tractor, at Fort Meade Historical Museum

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Fort Meade Farm Equipment at Fort Meade Florida Railroad Depot

I hope to get back to Polk County later in 2022 to see the town of Frostproof, Lake Wales and more. I’ll post photos from that trip here.

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