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Bartow, appropriately named “City of Oaks and Azaleas,” contains many historic homes built in the late 19th and 20th centuries. With a population of more than 17,000, Bartow remains the county seat of one of Florida’s geographically largest counties. Polk County has more than 585,000 residents. Thousands of government and private business employees commute to Bartow, daily. Bartow is 40 miles east of Tampa, and 60 miles southwest of Orlando. It is strategically located at the intersection of U.S. Highway 98 and State Road 60.
The city now Called Bartow was founded in October 1851 as Fort Blount, a stockade established by Readding Blount and his family. In the 1850’s, the first permanent new settlers came to the area near the dead-waters of the “Peas River” (or Peace River) and established Fort Blount. This settlement was somewhat stalled by the American Civil War a decade later, although the County government, named after President James Polk, was established in 1861.
After the war, in 1867, the county commissioners decided the county seat should be named after General Francis S. Bartow, the first Confederate officer to die in the war, and so, the name of Fort Blount was changed to Bartow.
A bronze marker at the corner of Main Street and Floral Avenue—-about a quarter mile west of the Old Polk County Historical Museum and Genealogical Library—-commemorates the fort. Much of the community’s history is attested to by the graves in the old Historic Oak Hill Cemetery. Many of the graves have Confederate markers, reminders of the nations’s Civil War. Grave sites include those of Readding Blount and Jacob Summerlin.
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