Many veterans of the Indian War, impressed with the local climate and beauty of our area, went home to tell family and friends of the possibilities of homesteading in central Florida. The first known family to do just that were the Thornhills, who arrived in the 1860's. Soon after, the Boyd, Inman, Jackson, Sykes and Eycleshimer families established themselves in the area and began to grow strawberries, eggplant, guavas, tomatoes, peaches and peppers. The area that would become Winter Haven was platted by Blount
and Whitledge in 1884.
The first mercantile, Hovey and Harris, was built in 1885; F.A.K. Harris and his wife, Adele, lived above the store. As the Harris' arrived the railroad was being constructed. Because Adele would cook for them, the railroad workers dubbed the new village "Harris Corners." The formal name "Winter Haven" was selected in 1885 based on a suggestion from P.D. Eycleshimer. His rationale? The city's pleasant winter climate.
At the turn of the century the population had grown to 400, and Winter Haven could boast of citrus groves, a school, a post office, a real estate office, a social club, churches, hotels, floral nurseries, a canning factory and the headquarters of Florida Growers Association.
Winter Haven was incorporated in 1911, and by this time its residents had acquired banks, a band, a newspaper, a movie theater and 15 automobiles. The canals that connect Winter Haven's Chain of Lakes began with the organization of the Twenty Lakes Boat Course Club in 1915.
The Florida Boom of the 1920's brought land speculation and a great influx of newcomers to the area. On September 6, 1930, 22-year-old George Jenkins opened the very first Publix Food Store on Fourth Street, NW on the park downtown. In 1936, tourism became an economic mainstay as Dick and Julie Pope opened Cypress Gardens -- and the eyes of the world -- to the beauty of Winter Haven. Winter Haven was well on its way to becoming the beautiful, thriving town that it is today.
This year, 2011, marks the city's Centennial Celebration and many special activities will take place. Among the most exciting opportunities to celebrate will be the historic opening of LEGOLAND Florida on the site of the iconic Cypress Gardens. The park will open in October 2011.