Known as "The Chain of Lakes City," Winter Haven is widely recognized as the water skiing capital of the world and a boater's paradise. Public boat ramps are scattered along lakeshores, some in conjunction with beaches, fishing piers, recreational facilities and picnic grounds. Lake Shipp Park, an 18-acre county park, has a boat ramp, a swimming beach and picnic tables. Picnic tables and boat ramps draw people to Lake Cannon Park during the summer. Any spot in Winter Haven is within a few steps of a freshwater lake or canal.
While the city is a tourist destination, some 30,000 residents call the community home on a year-round basis. The area has benefited from tourism, the growth of nearby metropolitan areas, economic growth bolstered by ecologically friendly businesses and redevelopment. Thanks to a progressive business climate and central location, Winter Haven has seen steady economic growth and attracted numerous companies including State Farm Insurance, Sherwin Williams, Wal-Mart and Scotty's who all have large distribution centers in the area. Other sectors of our local economy include agriculture, cattle, light industry, health care, retirement and tourism.
Winter Haven has continued a steady, controlled growth that minimizes congestion and allows for a more enjoyable pace of life. The city recently broke ground on a new redevelopment project called "Citi Centre." A major storm-water filtration and ecological park is nearing completion on Lake Howard.
Students in Winter Haven attend the Polk County Public School System. The district is the eighth largest school district in Florida and the 42nd largest in the nation. The school system serves approximately 77,000 students from pre-kindergarten through adult school classes. The system includes high schools, middle schools, elementary schools and 10 "other" schools, which include adult, alternative education, technical and exceptional student education centers. There are also seven charter schools located throughout Polk County.
Polk Community College, a two-year institution, offers complete career programs. Four-year institutions within commuting distance include Florida Southern College, the University of South Florida, Webber College, Warner Southern College, Webster University, the University of Central Florida and the University of Tampa. Two technical schools, Ridge Technical Center and Travis Technical Center, are also nearby.
The Winter Haven area is home to unique and wonderful attractions. Cypress Gardens, America's first theme park, is on the outer edge of the city. The oldest and most beautiful of Florida's attractions, Cypress Gardens boasts more than 200 acres of magnificent botanical gardens with four seasonal floral festivals as well as a holiday and spring light. Five million holiday and spring lights make the light shows the largest outdoor lighting display in the southeast.
The Gardens has the longest running continuous production in the world, having presented more than 75,000 performances of their famous water ski show since 1944.
Cypress Gardens is also home to the "Wings of Wonder" butterfly conservatory; the Birdwalk Aviary; Gator Gulch; scenic boat rides; The FloraDome; Moscow on Ice; and the Southern Breeze paddle wheel boat, offering visitors lake tours and dining. Bok Tower Gardens' majestic carillon tower stands on the highest point in peninsular Florida, 295-foot Iron Mountain. The tower, constructed of pink and gray Georgia marble and coquina stone from St. Augustine, houses 57 bronze bells ranging in weight from 17 pounds to nearly 12 tons.
Winter Haven was incorporated in 1911, and by this time its residents had acquired banks, a band, a newspaper, a movie theater and 15 automobiles. The canals that connect Winter Haven's Chain of Lakes began with the organization of the Twenty Lakes Boat Course Club in 1915.
The Florida Boom of the 1920s brought land speculation and a great influx of newcomers to the area. In 1924, the Florida Citrus Festival was first held to salute this important local agribusiness. In 1936, tourism became an economic mainstay as a man named Dick Pope opened Cypress Gardens - and the eyes of the world - to the beauty of Winter Haven. About that same time a young George Jenkins opened the very first Publix supermarket at Central Avenue and Second Street, N.W. Winter Haven was well on its way to becoming the beautiful, thriving town that it is today.
Although the early city planners of Lake Wales, could not have known the tremendous growth Florida would see in the 60 years after their plans were set forth, these forefathers had the vision to create a design that still works well today.
The city is located in the geographical center of the Florida peninsula, and is accessible by U.S. Highway 27 and State Hwy 60. Interstate 4 crosses the state 25 miles north of Lake Wales, and both the Tampa and Orlando International Airports are approximately one hour's drive away. Lake Wales Florida Municipal Airport's two 4,000-foot paved runways accommodate general aviation, and the airport is the home of the Skydive Lake Wales. The city is less than an hour's drive from the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, Cypress Gardens, Disney World, Epcot Center, and other internationally popular tourist destinations.
Because of the region's rich soil and warm climate, citrus has been a major contributor to the local economy since the earliest days of Lake Wales. Recently, the area has been successful in attracting light manufacturing, construction and electronics firms. A regional mall provides employment opportunities for an estimated 1,200 persons. Development the Longleaf Business Park and infrastructure improvements are currently under way.
Lake Wales students are served by the Polk County Public School District and attend the following schools: Spook Hill, Polk Avenue, Hillcrest, Janie Howard Wilson and Babson Park elementary schools; McLaughlin Middle School; Lake Wales High School and Roosevelt Vocational School. Combined total enrollment is just under 4,200 students.
Also located in Lake Wales is the Vanguard School, an independent, internationally recognized boarding school for students with learning disabilities, dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, and other learning problems. The school is highly acclaimed and has students from 23 countries.
Warner Southern College, a Christian liberal arts college, offers 16 Bachelor of Arts degrees. The 325-acre campus, located on both sides of Highway 27, is seven miles south of Lake Wales.
Webber College, a private, four-year, independent college founded in 1927, is located on a picturesque 110-acre campus on the eastern shore of Lake Caloosa in Babson Park. The college awards the Bachelor of Science degree and the Associate of Science degree in Business Administration. Polk Community College, in nearby Winter Haven, serves the advanced educational needs of Polk County residents with courses paralleling those offered in the state university system.
Other institutions within commuting distance include, Florida Southern College, the University of South Florida, Webster University, the University of Central Florida and the University of Tampa. Two technical schools, Ridge Technical Center and Travis Technical Center, are also nearby.
The Lake Wales Public Library, the Depot Museum, and the Lake Wales Arts Council provide programs in the arts and local history that supplement programs offered by the public school system. Sponsored by the Lake Wales Arts Council, the Lake Wales Art Show began in 1971 and is held annually during the last weekend in March on the shores of Lake Wailes, drawing more than 125 artists and thousands of visitors each year.
In addition to a 2.25-mile bike/hike path along the shores of Lake Wailes, there are more than 250 acres of public parks and athletic fields within the city limits. The city offers a variety of year-round recreational programs. Additional organized leisure activities are sponsored by community groups that include the Lake Wales Little League, Little Theater, Children's Theater, YMCA, Tourist Club and Senior Center.
Downtown Lake Wales features a quaint collection of specialty shops emphasizing the highest quality and attentive personal service. With a charming atmosphere all its own, the Shops of Historic Lake Wales satisfy the most discriminating of tastes in a wide variety of areas. The Eagle Ridge Mall features numerous stores, specialty shops and restaurants with approximately 880,000 square feet of retail space.
Lake Wales Medical Center is a licensed 154-bed facility that provides a comprehensive range of inpatient and outpatient services. Physicians staff the hospital's emergency room 24 hours each day. An extended care facility is part of the Medical Centers complex.
The community is served by general practitioners and specialists in private medical practice, a walk-in clinic, and three convalescent centers that offer long and short-term care.
There are a variety of attractions in the area. On the highest point in Central Florida, Bok Tower is a national historic landmark and home of the annual International Carillon Festival. Designed in the 1920s by the Olmstead Brothers, Bok Tower Gardens is now a world-renowned botanical preserve and a sanctuary for endangered plant species.
Since 1931, the Chalet Suzanne has been welcoming guests to the heart of Central Florida. The storybook inn, a National Register building, is nestled among orange groves on small, sparkling Lake Suzanne. Around-the-world furnishings are enhanced by the Chalet Suzanne's fountains, courtyards, balconies and beautiful grounds.
At Spook Hill objects appear to defy the laws of gravity and physics as they roll uphill. This mysterious phenomenon has become a major attraction for visitors to Central Florida and the object of somewhat serious and not-so-serious scientific research.
Lake Wales was founded in 1911 by the Lake Wales Land Company, a group of businessmen who purchased 5,000 acres in the hilly wilderness around Lake Wailes -- a pristine lake named after Sydney Wailes, a land agent employed by the State of Florida after the Civil War. The men of the Lake Wales Land Company believed that the plentiful pine forests would form the basis of a thriving turpentine and lumber industry, the sandy soil would be ideal for growing grapefruit, oranges and other citrus, and the rolling hills would be the perfect site for a town. The first settlers arrived in 1911, the town was incorporated in 1917, and the city was granted its municipal charter in 1921.
Perhaps one question stands out in any discussion of Lake Wales history: Why is the name of the lake Lake Wailes and the town Lake Wales? According to local lore, it was a simple matter of perception. Reportedly, one of the town's founders, upon seeing the name Lake Wailes spelled out on the sign at the new railroad depot, thought the spelling looked too sad-looking and ordered the "i" to be removed.
The Lake Wales community works hard to constantly improve and also enjoy the life they have built here on, Florida's ridge. Today, as the city continues to celebrate its proud heritage, it also offers an environment with opportunities for business and industry to grow and prosper.
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