Lakeland through the ages

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18, 18, 1885. We might not be as musical as Bowling For Soup, but we share a similar passion for remembering the good ol’ days, throwing it all the way back to the Lakeland of yesteryear

Keep reading for pivotal historic moments in Lakeland’s former eras. 

1885-1900 | Lakeland’s incorporation, the railroad industry, and explosive growth

Lakeland’s founder, Abraham Munn, purchased 80 acres of land in 1882 that would one day become downtown Lakeland. Prior to incorporating Lakeland, Abraham moved from his birthplace of New Jersey to Louisville, Kentucky where he worked in the agricultural industry

In 1884, Abraham’s persuaded officials at Henry Plant’s South Florida Railroad to make Lakeland a stop. At his own expense, Abraham provided a railroad station, amenities, and adjacent plots of land to the railroad in an effort to give Lakeland a permanent presence on central Florida’s map.

Lakeland rang in the new year by becoming an official town on Jan. 1, 1885. People flocked to the town that Abraham claimed was “beautifully laid out… and very desirable for a winter home.” 

With the growing population came the development of The Tremont Hotel in 1885 (located on the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Main Street) with an average of 25 trains passing through the subdivision daily. 

Within 14 years of its birth, Lakeland had become Florida’s third largest city, behind Tampa + Jacksonville.

Lakeland’s first railroad station, circa 1884 | Photo via Florida Memory

1900-1915 | Elections, hospitals, and modern hotels 

The early 1900s were fraught with major developments, ranging from the first mayoral election in 1901 to the construction of Lakeland’s first fire department in 1908 and its first hospital beginning construction in 1915. The Federal Building, which served as Lakeland’s first stand-alone post office, was built in 1917. 

As Lakeland grew, so did its taste for modern pleasures. Although the Tremont Hotel boasted Lakeland’s first bathtubs, Hotel Thelma was built just down the street (Frescos Southern Kitchen & Bar sits) on Nov. 10, 1913. Known as Lakeland’s first modern hotel, Hotel Thelma was a gathering place for cultural + civic organizations.

The Marble Arcade building (left) and Hotel Thelma (right) circa 1952 | Photo via Florida Memory

1915-1930 | Historic structures, Presidential visits, and Publix

From 1920-1925, Florida saw a 30% increase in population. Known as the Florida land boom, this event led to the construction of some of Lakeland’s most iconic structures, including the Terrace Hotel (1924) and the Palace Theater (1925).

In 1926, The Marble Arcade (129 S. Kentucky Ave.), also known as Lakeland’s first “cloud scraper,” was constructed. The building is now owned by MidFlorida Credit Union, but back in the day it was the only high rise office building, designed to accommodate Lakeland’s growing industries. 

Later that year, The New Florida Hotel (now the Lake Mirror Tower Apartments) was built. Months later, Lakeland’s first public library, the Park Trammell Building, was built on Lake Morton Drive in 1927. In 1929, President Calvin Coolidge became the first US President to visit Swan City. Finally, in 1930, the first Publix supermarket, then named “The Publix Food Store” opened in Winter Haven, and Lakelanders got their first taste of shopping where it’s a pleasure.

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