What was once the Polk County Courthouse, built in 1908, now serves as the History Center and houses a historical museum and library.
Historical Museum and Library
As our largest artifact on display, the Historic 1908 Courthouse served the citizens of Polk County from 1908-1987. In 1998 the building in Bartow was granted a new commission as Polk County History Center and Historical and Genealogical Library.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989, the courthouse is a representation of the neoclassical architectural style that flourished from 1890 into the early twentieth century. This particular style is recognized through the use of tall columns, symmetrical fixtures, triangular pediments and accentuated domes. Through careful preservation, the building has been frozen in time and longtime residents consistently reflect on fond memories on their own experiences walking the courthouse halls. The History Center runs an architectural tour of the museum every 3rd Saturday of the month. Visit the polkhistorycenter.org for scheduling information.
With 11 permanent and 4 temporary galleries, the History Center offers abundant opportunities for discovery for history and heritage lovers enjoying a Central Florida vacation.
Anchoring the 1st floor are 7 galleries that explore the people, places and events that have made a lasting impact on Polk County. From pioneers to industrialists and countless veterans, each display illustrates our treasured and unique heritage.
The 2nd floor of the History Center features the fully restored 1908 Courtroom, the 1926 Courtroom. The vaulted ceilings and spacious viewing gallery reveal the prominence of the 1908 courtroom and reflect the public nature of the judicial process.
Artifacts on display include an original judge’s bench, a thirteen person jury box and the bar that separated members of the court from the viewing gallery.
Military History and Paleo Indians
Two additional permanent exhibits on the 2nd floor of the History Center explore Polk County’s military history and the Paleo Indians who inhabited the region over 1,500 years ago.
Two galleries provide a distinct kid-friendly experience. Children visiting LEGOLAND Florida Resort during their Central Florida vacation will enjoy a slower pace at the History Center. They can dress up as pioneers, produce a puppet show, and explore replicas of a Seminole Chickee and pioneer cracker home.
A special fossil exhibit features teeth from a giant megalodon shark, the leg bones of a mastodon and skulls from a giant American crocodile, and sabre tooth cat.
History & Heritage Trail
Polk County History Center serves as the heritage concierge for Polk County and is equipped to direct visitors to over 175 heritage sites found county wide.
Through the Polk County Heritage Trail, visitors can embark on a journey to explore a multitude of historic homes, vintage hotels, cemeteries, monuments, festivals, museums and much more. Staff at the History Center can provide recommendations for single day trips or direct you to sites based in a single city.
While in Bartow you may also like to visit Unfiltered Coffee, and The Cookie Jar.