Lake Wales History

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



The Railroad

Before the arrival of the railroad, Lake Wales could only be reached by sand trails. The extension of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad from Haines City to Lake Wales in 1911 ended the community's isolation and encouraged early settlement. The original Atlantic Coast Line depot, a crude unpainted shack and platform, was the first building constructed in Lake Wales. It was replaced in 1913 with a large frame structure that stood on Scenic Highway near Park Avenue. The new depot was capable of accommodating both freight and passengers, and, as people and supplies began to flow in, it served as the starting point from which the present town evolved.

In April 1915, the first train over the Lake Wales section of the east-west Seaboard Air Line tracks came through from Bartow, and early residents celebrated their status as a 2-railroad town. In 1916, a small depot was constructed just east of the intersection of Kissimmee Avenue and Scenic Highway to accommodate rail traffic on this line.

In 1928, a new passenger depot was constructed several blocks south of the original depot to relieve congestion in the downtown area. A freight room and loading platform were added in 1938.

Passenger service to Lake Wales ceased in 1954. In 1966, Seaboard Air Line and Atlantic Coast Line merged to form the Seaboard Coast Line Railway. In 1974, freight service shifted to the West Lake Wales station, and trains no longer stopped in Lake Wales.