Tom Scherberger

Want to explore the cultural, historical, and architectural treasures of Bartow, Fla.? There’s an app for that.

Just go to Florida Stories Walking Tours, and download the app created by the Florida Humanities Council.

With this app you can learn, at your own pace and on your own schedule, what some of Florida’s most unique towns and cities have to offer.

Here’s an overview of what you can experience via the Bartow app:

Where: Bartow, Polk County
Number of stops: 12
Total time: minutes
Author: Jayme Jamison, Polk County History Center Curator of Education and Programming
Start: Fort Blount Park


The county seat of Imperial Polk County grew out of the hardscrabble of Central Florida in Seminole Indian country, near a settlement of “black Seminoles,’’ or escaped slaves from Georgia.

It is named after Francis S. Bartow, the first Confederate brigade commander killed during the Civil War, during the Battle of Manassas.

Located in “Bone Valley,’’ the richest source of phosphate in the world, Bartow was once the center of the state’s phosphate industry. The city’s future growth is expected to occur on former phosphate land.


The tour starts, appropriately, at Fort Blount Park, where early pioneer families and their slaves fortified their settlements to protect themselves against raids by Seminole Indians and from which the town of Bartow eventually sprang.

Mann Manor, “the home that love built,” dates to 1927 and is a testament to the love between Dr. George W. Mann and his, wife, Kate, who is herself a symbol of the tough and independent women of the region.

Oak Hill Cemetery, under live oaks and with elaborate markers, is the final resting place of many of Polk County’s notable names, reflecting Bartow’s evolution from pioneer settlement to prosperous city.

At 335 Main Street, learn about the history of the city’s original Opera House the future home of the Orpheum Theater and Academy of Performing Arts.

The Romanesque-style First United Methodist Church of Bartow, built in 1906, is a chance to learn about the city’s deep religious roots.

At the yellow-brick Record Building, learn about the history of Bartow newspapers and the role they played in the development of the city.

Main Street, the heart of downtown Bartow, was developed thanks to the arrival of the South Florida Railroad in 1884 and where the original Burdine’s store was located.

Fun fact

In 1887, Thomas Edison stopped in Bartow by train on his way to his winter home in Fort Myers to promote his latest invention, the phonograph, recording the voices of local residents.

Things to do

The Polk County Historical Museum is located in the former County Courthouse, built in 1908, and focuses on Polk County history.

Take a free tour of the 1892 Victorian-style Lawrence B. Brown house.

Visit the small Luster All African American Heritage Museum in downtown Bartow to learn about many contributions of African Americans to the history of Central Florida, and your tour might be led by Charles Luster, who founded the museum.

Enjoy a slice of real Florida by canoe, kayak or boat on the Peace River Paddling Trail, a serene trek from Bartow to Arcadia.

Located about four miles from downtown Bartow, the Fort Fraser Trail is a seven-mile hiking and biking path that runs along a former railroad line that once linked Lakeland and Naples.