Early Lake Wales

Excerpt from "Rose Wetmore's Diary"
Autumn 1912
"It was a foggy morning and having been a rainy fall, the water was up to both sides of the R.R. in many places causing us to almost regret having come to Florida. But just before coming to Lake Wales, the sun came out in all its glory and banished our idea of being in a swamp; we expected snakes and alligators to be running around like chickens and of course found that a great mistake...
The train stopped at the platform north of the little station (used to load and unload barrels of turpentine from the still) where they unloaded our trunks before we could get off... There were no sidewalks, no lights or hard roads just deep sand everywhere with hogs and cattle roaming all over, but when I stepped from the car door and saw how beautiful the view was over the two lakes, this big moss draped pine and oak and a church under construction, I was content..."

Historic Timeline
  • 1853: Survey made of region around present-day Lake Wales by W.A. Williams and J. Jackson, deputy surveyors of the State of Florida; area considered to be uninhabitable by early settlers
  • 1879: Lake Wailes (lake) named after Sidney I. Wailes, agent for the Florida Land and Improvement Co., who had helped surveyor Colonel J.W. Childs obtain a contract to do second survey of the region
  • 1885: Robert J. Ruth of Baltimore, Maryland, obtained 1,400 acres of land around Iron Mountain
  • 1902: G.V. Tillman scouted region and saw potential for turpentine, citrus, and other industries; developed idea to colonize area around Lake Wailes
  • 1905: B.F. Bullard, C.L. Johnson, A. Sessoms, G.F. Deen, and J.M. Bell purchased land around Lake Wailes to develop Naval Stores business; Sessoms Investment Co. formed
  • 1910: Atlantic Coast Line Railroad broke ground at Haines City for branch line south to Frostproof
  • 1911: C.L. Johnson Co. formed by G.V. Tillman, B.F. Bullard, C.L. Johnson, and B.K. Bullard to plan turpentine still at northeast corner of Lake Wailes (near present-day Kiwanis Park)
    • Atlantic Coast Line Railroad tracks reached Lake Wailes ending isolation of the area; depot built near present-day Park Avenue
    • Turpentine Still constructed with commissary, blacksmith shop, church, and living quarters for workers
    • Lake Wales Land Co formed by E.C. Stuart and officers of C.L. Johnson Co.
    • A.C. Nydegger hired by Lake Wales Land Co. to survey and plat town site
    • Streets cleared and construction of Hotel Wales began
  • 1912: General Store opened by T.J. Parker; post office boxes installed
    • Bartow-Lake Wales mail service inaugurated
    • Construction started on boardinghouse for employees of Lake Wales Land Co.
    • Construction started on Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church
    • Water works constructed
    • Permanent settlement in town began as families started arriving
    • Sawmill constructed north of town
  • 1913: Newspaper service instituted with publication of Lake Wales News by Polk County record Office
    • Home building commenced with construction of Wetmore houses on Twin Lake
    • Ice plant completed
    • Spelling of town's name on depot sign changed by ACL Railroad from Lake Wailes to Lake Wales, reflecting popular usage
    • Banking added to services offered in T.J. Parker's General Store
    • First services held in town's first church
    • Hotel Wales opened for business
  • 1914: Electric light plant completed
    • School opened with 14 pupils
    • Organized grove planting began
    • Cemetery established
    • Organization of community social and civic groups began
    • Medical services provided with arrival of Dr. C.F. Griffin
    • Population reached 250
    • Volunteer Fire Department organized following first real calamity
  • 1915: Western Union installed telegraph operations
    • Seaboard Air Line tracks extended to Lake Wales from Bartow
    • Telephone line connected Lake Wales with Haines City
    • Lake Wales Board of Trade organized and joined Ridge Board of Trade
  • 1916: Local publication of newspaper began with first issue of The Highlander
    • Military company organized for rifle practice and drill; later became Home Guard
    • Streets in business district given hard surface
    • Justice of the Peace appointed in Lake Wales district
    • School year opened with 98 pupils; $25,000 bond issue approved for new building
  • 1917: Board of Trade organized Farm Loan Association to develop surrounding groves
    • Asphalt road completed between Lake Wales and Haines City
    • Charter of Incorporation granted to Town of Lake Wales by Florida Legislature
    • Town Council elected: M.R. Anderson, Mayor; G.E. Wetmore, B.K. Bullard, L.L. Barnes, G. Swanke, and J.F. Townsend, Councilmen; M.M. Ebert, Clerk