Books to Check Out, After Checking In

By: Polk County History Center

Our friends at Polk History Center, Bartow have compiled a wonderful list of Central Florida history books for those visitors (or residents!) who want to learn a little more about the history and stories that have made this area what it is. Happy reading!

Books to Check Out, After Checking In

We’ve put together a Polk County sized collection of books sure to satisfy even the most inquisitive of wayfarers. Find your favorite nook at Unfiltered-Bartow or an inspiring vista at Bok Tower Gardens or along the Peace River Hammock and immerse yourself in legends, lore, and history.

Books stacked outside Polk History Center

The Polk County History Center has the ultimate collection of books about Polk County, make sure to stop in to visit the library or the gift shop on your next visit. (Credit: Polk County History Center)

Florida Lore

“Is there ’gators in the river? Mister, there ain’t no water in Florida without ’gators, ’less you got a tub of it in your house. And one’s liable to get in there too if you leave the door open.”

― Patrick D. Smith, A Land Remembered

Are you actually in Polk County if you haven’t spotted a gator, or a cow for that matter? Polk’s abundant lands, rife with creatures big and small and an assortment of trees, flowers, and views inspired a rough and ready pioneer lifestyle that features prominently in two novels, A Land Remembered* by Patrick D. Smith and Mules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston.

In A Land Remembered, Smith vividly portrays the MacIvey family across three generations in Florida. From scratching out a living in the scrub environments that personify Polk County to amassing power and wealth from the exploitation of the land, the family battles greed and pride in search of hope and redemption. A Land Remembered was winner of the Florida Historical Society’s Tebeau Prize as the Most Outstanding Florida Historical Novel and has been in print since 1984.

Exploring Lake Kissimmee during less foreboding times

Published two years prior to the renowned Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men is among the foremost collections of Black Folklore of the American south. Primarily set in Eatonville, Florida, the novelist embarks on a sojourn to the Everglades Cypress Lumber Company in Polk County. She writes simultaneously as an observer and partaker of the cultural traditions spun by both, men and women in the company town. Inspired as she was, Hurston co-wrote a musical about the area entitled, Polk County with Dorothy Waring.

Want to take it a step further? You can trek across the old railroad beds of SUMICA, an abandoned lumber company along the Lake Wales Ridge. SUMICA, which stands for the French name Societe Universelle Mining Industrie, Commerce et Agriculture is now the largest of Polk County’s Environmental Lands and an excellent place to take photographs, picnic and observe wildlife communities.

Easy Reads

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then anyone of the Images of America* books on Polk County would yield a Tolkien sized anthology. Published by Arcadia Publishing, the series employs images to tell the stories of hometowns, nationwide. The Polk County collection includes the communities of Alturas & Lake Garfield, Auburndale, Bartow, the Kathleen Area, Lake Wales, Lakeland, Mulberry as well as The Buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright at Florida Southern College and Cypress Gardens.

W.E. Ballard family of Galloway in their strawberry field

This photograph from Images of America: Communities of the Kathleen Area shows the W.E. Ballard family of Galloway in their strawberry field. Note the “writing” on the photo is done in strawberries. Courtesy of the Kathleen Area Historical Society.

Florida Cattle Ranching* by the Florida Cattleman’s Foundation and Florida’s First Billboards* by Brenda Eubanks Burnette and Jerry Chicone, Jr. employs authentic images to visually portray the stories behind two of Polk’s largest industries, cattle and citrus.

Those who enjoy a good rainstorm will appreciate Frostproof Treasures: The Mississippi Rainmaker. Written by local author and historian, Bea Reifeis the book recalls the true story of Miss Lillie Stoates conjuring of rain for the drought stricken citrus groves of Polk in 1939.

Deep Dives

Readers with an inquisitive nature who want to know more about Polk County and the histories of our unique hometowns will find the books of Canter Brown Jr., Ph.D. and Louise Frisbie quite satisfying. Florida’s Peace River Frontier, In the Midst of All that Makes Life Worth Living: Polk County to 1940*, and None Could Have Richer Memories: Polk County Since 1940* authored by Brown, each offer thorough details on the founding and development of Polk County and include information on the indigenous groups who preceded the pioneers.

Louise Frisbie’s Peace River Pioneers* and Yesterday’s Polk County* is replete with stories capturing the lives of early families and popular moments in Polk’s history. A cache of memories from days gone by, the books are complemented with a variety of historic photographs.

Bibliophile Friendly

Perhaps you are among the many with a great love of books or just enjoy the smell of old books – why not visit the Polk County History Center and browse the many books that make up our collection. A variety of books on each municipality provide additional insight on Polk’s unique communities and influential figures. Snag a book shelfie (get it…a selfie at a library…) in front of our collection of local yearbooks dating back to the early 1920s.

Something Everyone Can Enjoy

Goodnight Lakeland by Ida Mundell and Josh “Bump” Galetta is a local take on “Goodnight Moon,” and is a perfect guide to the Swan City for the youngest of readers. The 42-page book is delightfully illustrated and features iconic Lakeland locations, such as Lake Mirror’s Frances Langford Promenade, the Southgate Shopping Plaza and Silver Moon Drive-In Theatre.

“Our city’s a place where whimsy abounds.
Goodnight, Lakeland,
Our beloved hometown.”


*Available for purchase at the Polk County History Center

If you’re inspired by Central Florida History Books by sure to read our blog on historic sites everyone should see.

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