The City of Polk City came up from humble beginnings. During the 1800’s farmers began to clear and farm the land. At the time there was no power, other than that of horse or mule, and water came from shallow wells which had been dug by hand. Going into town was an ordeal as the shops and other stores of the day were far off and travel was on horseback or by buggy. The town was not even a town, just a grouping of farms. Things began to change for what would become Polk City when a man named Isaac Van Horn was traveling through Polk County in the summer of 1922. As typical of a Florida summer, the weather was hot and humid. Van Horn stopped to a break to cool off along his trip by what is now Lake Agnes and observed the area’s natural beauty.
The gently rolling hills, the breeze through trees was not completely unfamiliar to this man from Boston. Much of it reminded him of his home. It was here that the idea for Polk City was conceived. Mr. Van Horn’s profession as a developer and as an investor provided him with essential financial connections in New Jersey and New York. As the chairman of the “Standing Committee of the Florida State Chamber of Commerce” he had played a part in developing the city of Haines City. This gave him insight into what a great place this area would be for a town. Just to the north of where Polk City is today, Van Horn believed that there were oil fields waited to be exploited.
This belief caused him to bring in an oil drilling company and begin drilling well heads. Naturally, men and their families came for the jobs and the area began to become a hub of activity. With the influx of people he realized that there was a need for a town closer than the nearest town which was 14 miles away. This led Van Horn to purchase two square miles of land in what is now the center of Polk City. The land was cleared and expansion began. By the middle of 1925 Polk City had become a busy place. The increasing population and new construction led to the incorporation of the town of Polk City on April 3rd, 1925. Mr. Van Horn was responsible for naming the town.
Seven years after he began his search for oil, Van Horn realized that there must not be any oil in Polk City. Oil drilling rigs soon moved out of town and soon afterwards came the great financial crash which began on October 19, 1929. With no industry or oil wells to work on families began to lose their property, homes and everything they had worked so hard for. Between 1930 and 1960 Polk City saw its population diminish from 600 people to just 203. It was during this time that Van Horn moved from Polk City to Lakeland and then back north. Following World War Two, negotiations between Van Horn and Associates and Mrs. John R. Brandon of New Jersey began. The Town of Polk City was transferred to a municipal property in exchange for the bonds. This action left Polk City free of all debts. Once the town’s debt load was eliminated, the town began a slow but steady recovery The town has grown from its small population of 203 in 1960 to nearly 2,000 people today living within the city limits.