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Bartow Florida – A Sleepy Town Making A Comeback


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Dru Waring



Welcome to Bartow, Florida – a small town with big potential. Nestled in the heart of Polk County, Bartow offers a unique blend of history, charm, and endless opportunities for growth. With its rich heritage and prime location, the town is poised to make a comeback and become a hub of economic activity in the region.


Founded in 1851, Bartow has a deep-rooted history that can be seen in its historic buildings, oak-lined streets, and friendly atmosphere. Originally named Fort Blount, the town was renamed in honor of Francis S. Bartow, a Confederate Army officer. Over the years, Bartow has evolved, facing its fair share of challenges while preserving its small-town charm.


Despite its quaint size, Bartow boasts a vibrant community that values its heritage and embraces progress. The town has seen periods of economic decline, but recent efforts have positioned Bartow for a revitalization that promises to bring new life and opportunities to its residents.


With its strategic location between Tampa and Orlando, Bartow is within reach of major metropolitan areas and transportation networks. This accessibility, combined with its affordable cost of living and strong workforce, makes Bartow an attractive destination for businesses and residents alike.


Whether you’re looking to start a new business, raise a family, or simply enjoy a slower pace of life, Bartow has something to offer everyone. From its historic downtown district to its ample recreational opportunities, Bartow is a hidden gem just waiting to be discovered.


In this article, we will explore the historical background of Bartow, the challenges it has faced, the ongoing efforts to revitalize the town, the major development projects in progress, and the attractions that draw visitors from far and wide. Join us as we delve into the hidden secrets and promising future of Bartow, Florida.


Historical Background of Bartow

The history of Bartow dates back to the mid-19th century when the area was home to Native American tribes. In 1851, the town was established and initially named Fort Blount, after a fort that had been constructed during the Seminole Wars. However, it was later renamed Bartow in honor of Francis S. Bartow, a Confederate Army officer who lost his life in the First Battle of Manassas during the American Civil War.


During its early years, Bartow served as the county seat of Polk County and quickly grew into a center of commerce and agriculture. The arrival of the railroad in 1885 further bolstered its economic development, connecting the town to other major cities in Florida and facilitating the transportation of goods and supplies.


Throughout its history, Bartow has been witness to significant events and milestones. It served as a military training ground during both World Wars and was home to a number of military installations. The town’s architecture reflects this rich history, with numerous well-preserved buildings and landmarks that showcase its heritage.


One notable historical event that shaped Bartow’s identity was the creation of the first phosphate mine in the region in the late 1800s. Phosphate mining brought newfound prosperity to the area, attracting workers and investors and propelling Bartow into a leading phosphate producer in Florida.


Over the years, Bartow experienced economic ups and downs, as fluctuations in the phosphate industry impacted the town’s fortunes. However, its residents remained resilient, and the spirit of community has been a constant throughout its history.


Today, the historical background of Bartow is not only celebrated but serves as a foundation for the town’s revitalization efforts. Preserving the town’s heritage while embracing progress is a delicate balance that Bartow aims to achieve, as it looks towards a promising future.


Economic Decline

Like many small towns, Bartow experienced economic challenges over the years. The decline of the phosphate industry, which had once been a major economic driver, took a toll on the town’s prosperity. As demand for phosphate decreased and mining operations scaled back, Bartow faced job losses and a shrinking tax base.


The economic decline also led to the closure of businesses and a decline in downtown foot traffic. Once bustling with activity, the heart of Bartow struggled to retain its vitality as storefronts remained empty and residents sought employment opportunities elsewhere.


While the economic decline presented significant challenges, Bartow’s resilient community never lost its spirit. Community leaders and residents recognized the need for revitalization and began to explore opportunities to diversify the local economy and attract new businesses and investment.


In the face of economic hardships, Bartow embraced the idea of leveraging its historical assets and unique charm to attract visitors and stimulate economic growth. Efforts were made to revitalize the downtown area and create a more inviting and vibrant atmosphere. Infrastructure improvements, streetscape enhancements, and facade renovations were initiated to breathe new life into the town.


Additionally, initiatives were launched to support entrepreneurship and small business development. Resources, including grants and incentives, were made available to inspire investment in Bartow and facilitate the establishment of new enterprises.


While the process of economic recovery takes time, Bartow’s determination and strategic planning have started to yield positive results. The town is experiencing a gradual resurgence, with new businesses opening their doors, jobs being created, and a renewed sense of optimism taking hold.


Today, Bartow continues to navigate the path of economic recovery, focusing on diversifying its industries and attracting investments in various sectors. The town recognizes the importance of embracing innovation and providing a supportive environment for businesses to thrive. Through a combination of community collaboration, forward-thinking strategies, and a commitment to preserving its unique character, Bartow is on its way to overcoming the challenges of economic decline and building a brighter future for its residents.


Revitalization Efforts

In response to economic decline, Bartow has embarked on a comprehensive revitalization effort to breathe new life into the town and create a sustainable future. Recognizing the need for strategic planning and collaboration, community leaders, stakeholders, and residents have united to guide the revitalization process.


One of the key elements in Bartow’s revitalization efforts has been the focus on the historic downtown area. The downtown district serves as the centerpiece of the town, and its revitalization is seen as vital to attracting both residents and visitors. Facade improvements, landscaping enhancements, and the preservation of historic buildings have been prioritized to restore the area’s charm and appeal.


Infrastructure enhancements and streetscape improvements have also played a significant role in the revitalization process. Investments in upgraded utilities, street lighting, parking facilities, and pedestrian-friendly features have made Bartow more inviting and accessible to both residents and businesses.


Furthermore, the town has made efforts to promote entrepreneurship and small business development. Initiatives such as business incubators, mentoring programs, and support services have been implemented to encourage local entrepreneurs and provide them with the resources needed to succeed. This focus on nurturing homegrown businesses has not only created job opportunities but has also added to the unique character and diversity of Bartow’s economy.


In order to attract investment and encourage economic growth, Bartow has actively marketed itself as a business-friendly destination. Through outreach programs, networking events, and partnerships with regional organizations, the town has positioned itself as an attractive location for both small businesses and larger corporations looking to expand. Incentives such as tax breaks and grants are offered to qualifying businesses, further incentivizing investment in Bartow.


Collaboration and community engagement have been crucial throughout the revitalization process. Town hall meetings, focus groups, and surveys have ensured that the needs and aspirations of residents are considered in decision-making. This inclusive approach has fostered a sense of community ownership and pride in the revitalization efforts.


As a result of these revitalization efforts, Bartow has seen positive signs of progress. Empty storefronts are being filled with new businesses, community events and festivals are drawing visitors, and there is an overall sense of excitement and optimism within the town.


The ongoing revitalization efforts are not just about economic growth but also about preserving Bartow’s unique character and heritage. By striking a balance between progress and preservation, Bartow is creating a sustainable future that honors its past while embracing the opportunities of today.


Major Development Projects

Bartow is experiencing a wave of major development projects that are transforming the town and paving the way for a prosperous future. These projects encompass various sectors and reflect the town’s commitment to growth and revitalization.


One significant development project is the expansion and enhancement of the Bartow Municipal Airport. The airport serves as an important transportation hub for both business and leisure travelers. With improved infrastructure and expanded facilities, the airport is attracting increased aviation traffic and contributing to economic growth in the region.


In addition to the airport expansion, Bartow is also investing in the development of industrial parks to attract new businesses and industries. These parks offer prime locations for manufacturing, distribution, and logistics companies seeking to establish a presence in the region. The availability of land and supportive business infrastructure make Bartow an appealing destination for both startups and established businesses looking to expand.


The town is also focusing on the revitalization of blighted areas through rehabilitation and the repurposing of underutilized spaces. Redevelopment projects are transforming vacant buildings and lots into vibrant mixed-use developments, incorporating residential, commercial, and recreational spaces. These projects not only enhance the aesthetics of the town but also contribute to its economic vitality.


Another major development project that is generating buzz in Bartow is the construction of a new state-of-the-art hospital. This facility will significantly enhance healthcare services in the area, attracting the best medical professionals and improving access to quality care for residents. The hospital project is expected to create numerous job opportunities and serve as a catalyst for further development in the healthcare sector.


Moreover, Bartow is investing in the improvement of its recreational amenities. The town is enhancing its parks, trails, and open spaces to provide residents with more opportunities for outdoor activities and leisure. By creating a healthier and more enjoyable environment, these projects contribute to the overall quality of life in Bartow.


These major development projects not only drive economic growth and job creation but also enhance Bartow’s appeal as a place to live, work, and visit. The town’s strategic approach to development ensures that future growth is sustainable, well-planned, and aligned with the community’s needs and aspirations.


As these projects continue to unfold, Bartow is positioning itself as an attractive destination for businesses, residents, and visitors. The town’s commitment to bold and transformative development projects demonstrates its determination to create a thriving and prosperous community.


Tourism and Cultural Attractions

Bartow may be a small town, but it boasts a variety of tourism and cultural attractions that draw visitors from far and wide. From historical sites to natural wonders, there is something for everyone to enjoy in this charming community.


One of the main draws for tourists is the historic downtown area, which showcases the town’s rich heritage. The beautifully preserved buildings, quaint shops, and local businesses create a picturesque setting that takes visitors back in time. The Main Street district is a hub of activity, with regular events, festivals, and farmers markets that showcase the town’s vibrant culture.


Bartow’s historic landmarks also attract history enthusiasts. The Polk County Historical Museum, housed in the former courthouse, offers fascinating exhibits and artifacts that tell the story of the region’s past. Visitors can explore the rich history of Bartow and its surrounding areas and gain a deeper understanding of their cultural significance.


Nature lovers will find solace in Bartow’s abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities. The Peace River, which winds its way through the town, offers opportunities for kayaking, canoeing, and fishing. The adjacent Paynes Creek Historic State Park provides hiking trails, picnic spots, and a glimpse into Florida’s natural beauty.


Bartow is also home to a variety of art and cultural institutions. The Bartow Art Guild and the Bartow History Center showcase the talents of local artists and provide a platform for creative expression. Regular art exhibits, workshops, and cultural events attract both residents and visitors who appreciate the arts.


For those seeking entertainment and live performances, the Polk Theatre is a must-visit. This historic venue hosts a wide range of productions, including music concerts, theater performances, and film screenings, providing a vibrant cultural experience right in the heart of Bartow.


The town’s proximity to popular Florida attractions adds to its appeal. With just a short drive, visitors can explore the magical world of Disney in Orlando or enjoy the excitement of Tampa’s vibrant city life. Bartow serves as an ideal basecamp for exploring these nearby destinations while providing a peaceful and authentic small-town experience.


From historical landmarks to outdoor adventures and cultural experiences, Bartow offers a diverse array of attractions that cater to every interest. The town’s commitment to preserving its heritage and nurturing its arts and culture scene ensures that visitors will find a unique and enriching experience during their time in Bartow, Florida.


Education and Healthcare Facilities

Bartow takes pride in providing its residents with quality education and healthcare facilities that meet the needs of its growing community. The town places a strong emphasis on investing in the well-being and development of its residents, ensuring access to excellent education and healthcare services.


When it comes to education, Bartow boasts a commendable school system that caters to students of all ages. The Polk County School District oversees several schools in Bartow, including elementary, middle, and high schools. These schools offer a comprehensive and diverse curriculum, providing students with a strong educational foundation.


In addition to public schools, Bartow is also home to a variety of private educational institutions. These schools offer alternative educational approaches and specialized programs, giving parents and students more choices when it comes to their education.


Bartow is proud to be the home of Polk State College, a renowned institution of higher learning. The college offers a wide range of associate and bachelor’s degree programs, providing students with the opportunity to pursue higher education without leaving the community. Polk State College also collaborates with local businesses and industries to provide workforce training programs, ensuring that graduates are prepared for the demands of the job market.


When it comes to healthcare, Bartow offers a range of facilities that provide exceptional medical services to residents. One significant development in this area is the construction of a state-of-the-art hospital, which will serve as a major healthcare hub for the town and surrounding areas. This modern facility will provide comprehensive medical care, including emergency services, specialized treatments, and advanced diagnostic technologies.


In addition to the hospital, Bartow is home to a number of medical clinics, physician practices, and specialty care centers. These facilities offer a wide range of medical services, ensuring that residents have access to primary healthcare, specialized treatments, and preventive care closer to home.


As part of its commitment to the well-being of its residents, Bartow also promotes community health initiatives and programs. Fitness centers, parks, and recreational spaces are available to encourage an active and healthy lifestyle among residents. The town’s focus on promoting wellness contributes to a higher overall quality of life within the community.


With its robust education system and quality healthcare facilities, Bartow ensures that its residents have access to the resources and services they need to thrive. The town’s investment in education and healthcare demonstrates its commitment to the well-being and success of its residents, making Bartow an ideal place to live and raise a family.



Bartow, Florida is a small town with rich history, charm, and tremendous potential for growth. Despite facing economic decline, the town has not lost sight of its true potential and has embarked on a journey of revitalization. Through strategic planning, community engagement, and a commitment to preserving its heritage, Bartow is poised to make a comeback and become a hub of economic activity in the region.


Bartow’s historical background serves as a foundation for its revitalization efforts, with a focus on preserving its unique character while embracing progress. The town’s historic downtown district, alongside major development projects, is undergoing transformations that create a more inviting and vibrant atmosphere. Investments in infrastructure, support for entrepreneurship, and collaboration with regional organizations are attracting new businesses, creating job opportunities, and propelling economic growth.


Bartow is not simply focused on economic growth; it also prides itself on offering a range of cultural attractions, recreational opportunities, and excellent education and healthcare facilities. The town’s rich history, museums, art centers, and natural wonders make it an appealing destination for history enthusiasts, art lovers, and outdoor enthusiasts alike. Additionally, Bartow’s commitment to quality education and healthcare ensures that residents have access to the resources they need for personal growth and well-being.


As Bartow’s revitalization efforts continue to unfold, the town is cementing its position as a destination of choice for residents, businesses, and visitors. By striking a balance between progress and preservation, Bartow is creating a sustainable future while honoring its past. The town’s strategic planning, collaborative spirit, and commitment to the well-being of its residents are key factors in its ongoing transformation.


Whether you’re looking to start a business, raise a family, or enjoy the unique combination of history and charm, Bartow, Florida has something for everyone. With its promising future, access to major metropolitan areas, and a welcoming community, Bartow is a small town that is making a big comeback.