Haines City – All About Polk County
Haines City is the third most populated city in Polk County, Florida with Lakeland and Winter Haven being the only bigger cities. The South Florida Railroad continued to expand and eventually reached the Haines City area in 1885. Originally, the city was named “Clay Cut” but by agreeing to change the name to Haines City after a senior railroad official, Colonel Henry Haines, South Florida Railroad agreed to build a station in the now called Haines City. Railroads have always been a big part of Haines City’s history. Although the railroad station has been closed for many years, freight and passenger trains still run through the city on a regular basis.
Citrus played a huge part in the industry part of the city. The early settlers planted citrus groves and began processing their oranges, grapefruit and tangerines. This area still grows some of the best citrus in the world! In 1909, a small group of farmers formed a citrus growers association. Still in business today, Haines City Citrus Growers Association became the city’s largest employer and one of the state’s largest co-ops.
In 1915, the year after the incorporation of Haines City, Florida Fruit Products Co. pioneered production of bottled grapefruit juice. In the 1920’s Ralph Polk established a grapefruit sectioning plant. His company was Florida’s leading citrus processor throughout the 20’s and 30’s. His success led to construction of the Polk Hotel, which has now been restored and home of the Landmark Baptist College in historic downtown. Much of the downtown’s buildings were constructed during this period of the 20’s and 30’s and are now listed on the National Historic Register. The City’s Clay Cut Centre served more than 55 years as the community’s grammar school and then as our high school. Grant funding is being pursued to help restore the building, currently used for the Community Theater and Northeast Polk County Historical Society.
In the late 1940’s another pioneering venture changed the citrus industry’s character and future when Haines City businessmen began experimenting to develop frozen citrus concentrate. Even as frozen concentrate became widely available, the fresh citrus market remained the leading economic driver in central Florida for decades. In the last 40 years, entrepreneurs have started a wide variety of businesses, expanding the community’s economic base into manufacturing, service and retail sectors. In the early 70’s, Walt Disney’s purchase and development of Disney World, just 15 miles north of Haines City, changed the entire region’s economy. Tourism now ranks among the area’s top economic engines.