A Brief History
Contributed by Hazel Bowman and Freddie Wright,
Edited by Tom Muir
The Polk County Historical Association (PCHA) celebrated its thirty-fifth birthday in June 2009 having achieved over three decades of service to our community by preserving the area’s past and on-going history.
On a Sunday afternoon in 1974, forty-one organizers accepted a mandate to make the past part of the present and to ensure that past and present will be part of the future for Polk County citizens. Initial officers were Glenn Hooker, President; Walter Crutchfield, Vice President; Jim Gardner, Vice President; Elizabeth Brown, Secretary; Lacona Padgett, Treasurer, Louise Frisbie, Quarterly Editor, and “Bud” Dixon, Clerk of the Court for Polk County as ex officio member of the Polk County Historical Commission. The Clerk of the Court office donated the services of Lacona Padgett, librarian for the Polk County Historical Library, contributing eight hours weekly for PCHA recordkeeping. Space was also provided for a PCHA office.
In the first year membership soared to over 400. The first Pioneer Luncheon was held in 1975. The annual tradition of video-taping Polk County residents 79 years of age or older had begun. Monthly meetings with displays of artifacts and talks by historical authorities, the publication of the PCHA “Historical Quarterly” and a monthly newsletter were initiated. In addition, more than 300 historic photographs were sent to the State Photographic Archives for preservation and public access. PCHA received in return both the original pictures and archive reproductions for its own collection.
The “Polk County Historical Quarterly”, has been described as the best of its kind in the state. It has attracted members throughout Florida and in other states. Louise Frisbie was the first editor (1974-78) creating the original format. The second editor (1978) was Dr. Charles Thrift Jr., whose tenure was cut short by illness. Guest editors (1978-81) continued the work until Freddie Wright became editor (1981-2002), assisted by her husband, Hugh Wright (1996-2002). They encouraged members to write stories about their personal experiences for the quarterly. This effort led to the publication of a popular book on early Polk rural life Recollections of Days Gone By by Ray Albritton. Dr. James V. Holton served as editor of our quarterly (2002 – 2006).
The PCHA Historical Calendar was published for ten years, edited by Marie Bouker (1981-86) and Hazel Bowman (1987-90). Syble Young designed the logo that is still the basic symbol of PCHA today. By its tenth birthday luncheon PCHA membership was 1125. In addition to monthly meetings, the group sponsored field trips to historic areas in surrounding counties. A stunning array of well-known politicians, historians, civic-leaders, ministers, authors, judges and county officials from across Florida attended the annual pioneer luncheon bringing capacity audiences to the Bartow Civic Center. Lucy DuCharme and Mike Brown, volunteers from the School Board office, provided camera work while Walter Crutchfield and in recent years S. L. Frisbie, publisher of the “Polk County Democrat,” interviewed the “pioneers” to preserve their valuable living memories.
Glenn Hooker served as president for seventeen years (1974-91). He worked with Bud Dixon and the Polk County Historical Commission to obtain suitable housing for the Polk County Historical Library. An early attempt to build a museum and library on land donated by the City of Bartow failed for lack of funds. However, when the historic 1908 Polk County courthouse at Bartow became available, the Board of County Commissioners successfully converted it to the Historical and Genealogical Library (1986) and Historical Museum (1998). Today both continue their excellent service to the public.
Arthur Bissett (1991-92) followed Glen Hooker as president. He emphasized inclusion of every area of the county in PCHA affairs, especially the growing northeastern portion. Lloyd Harris (1992-94) and Bob Bass (1994-96) used their presidencies to develop Homeland Heritage Park. The PCHA office relocated to Homeland and volunteers contributed time to refurbishing the historic buildings collected from around Polk County. Carolyn Girtman prepared weekly lunch for members on Wednesdays and also secured the gift of a stove, refrigerator and water heater from local businesses. PCHA contributed funding for volunteers who kept the Park office open for workers and visitors. Upon the Grand Opening of Homeland Heritage Park on September 24, 1994 the PCHA office moved back to Bartow.
Since 1996 the PCHA has been involved in a number of worthwhile endeavors. In 1999, PCHA worked with members of the Bartow Neighborhood Improvement Corporation. Sponsored by the Florida Humanities Council, a yearlong project to preserve African-American history evolved into an annual community festival at the L. B. Brown House in Bartow.
The first volume of our county history In the Midst of all That Makes Life Worth Living; Polk County, Florida to 1940 by Canter Brown, Jr. was published in 2001. A copy was presented to the media center of every public school in Polk County. This was soon followed by None Can Have Richer Memories, Polk County, Florida 1940 – 2000 by Canter Brown, Jr. in 2005. The book Historical Markers and Historical Places of Polk County, Florida, compiled and edited by Doy Copeland, a past member of our Board of Directors was also published. Mr. O. Hugh Wright, former member of the PCHA Board of Directors revised and edited “An Historical Gazetteer of Polk County, Florida” in 2003. Copies of these books were also donated to every Polk County public school.