More and more cities, particularly smaller ones, are posting signs at their entrances proudly directing visitors to historic downtown areas or historic districts.
In Polk County, a number of small communities have created historical museums.
Such museums often are located in old schools, homes, churches, or railroad stations. This format serves the dual purpose of preserving historic structures as well as the artifacts displayed in them.
They typically are staffed by volunteers and funded, in part or entirely, by local historical societies.
Polk County government has set an example for historic preservation in the restoration of the old courthouse (now called the Polk County History Center) and development of the Homeland Heritage Park. The latter is on the school grounds of the old Homeland Elementary School.
If we may digress for a moment to pat ourselves on the back, the Homeland school property was on the verge of being quietly disposed of several decades ago. Sally Mellor, a reporter for The Polk County Democrat, noticed an item on the school board’s consent agenda that the property was going to be listed for sale.
“Over my dead body!” she declared, and she wrote a story about the plan.
The Democrat mounted an editorial campaign to preserve the old school building and grounds. Today, the school has been restored, and the site also contains the old Homeland Methodist Church and its parsonage, a log cabin, a cane grinding station, and other examples of architecture and life of yesteryear, all moved to the park from other locations.
Several local churches have annual services at the picturesque old church, which also is a popular site for weddings. Other events at the park include periodic demonstrations of Cracker-era skills, and parent-child campouts.
In downtown Bartow, the history center has become increasingly popular for its permanent and temporary displays, its repository of historic records, and a growing number of special events.
Historic displays and artifacts that appeal to visitors of all ages are found throughout the building. The center also houses one of the finest genealogical libraries in the southeastern United States.
The history center is open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
A listing of special events is available online at PolkHistoryCenter.org. Among them:
Monthly “Lunch and Learn” programs in the old criminal court of record courtroom are held at 12:15 p.m. on the third Tuesday of each month. They feature lectures by authorities in fields ranging from architecture to baseball to country music.
Entries in a photo contest featuring many of Polk’s historic sites are on display in the building.
Walking tours of the old Oak Hill Cemetery start from the history center on the first Saturday of each month at 11 a.m., with a stop at Fort Blount Park.
The cemetery contains graves of Jacob Summerlin, Confederate Major General Evander McIvor Law, members of the pioneer Readding Blount family, and many other prominent early Bartow families. Their contributions to the founding of Bartow and Polk County are described during the tour.
During the summer months, there will be child-oriented events at the history center each Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m.-noon, with programs designed to appeal to youngsters and their parents or grandparents.
Polk Countians have many reasons to take pride in the history of their county, and in the efforts devoted to preserving that heritage for future generations.