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Lake Wales Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Depot

Orange Blossom Special Comes to Lake Wales

The Orange Blossom Special traveling through the city of Lake Wales in 1925.

Located in Polk County, the City of Lake Wales lies in the central highlands region of the state, which is an isolated area without river access to either coast. The region experienced little development before the 20th century, with only sporadic settlement by the cattle and expanding citrus industries.[1] The lack of recorded archeological evidence suggests that the area was not likely widely inhabited by prehistoric or historic indigenous tribes, and the lack of river access prevented exploration and settlement during the Spanish and British colonial periods.[2] The region remained largely a wilderness until the Sessom Investment Company began exploiting its abundant pine forests in 1906.

G. V. Tillman, C. L. Johnson, B. F. Bullard and B. K. Bullard formed the Sessom Investment Company to deal in real estate and promote the naval store industry in the region.[3] In 1911, the group was joined by E. C. Stuart, forming the Lake Wales Land Company. In June of that same year, the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad (ACL) was extended from Haines City to Lake Wales, ending the relative isolation of the community by providing access to prospective settlers and an avenue to northern markets for the citrus industries and the products of the naval stores.[4] With their confidence bolstered by the arrival of the railroad, the Lake Wales Land Company invested in the infrastructure of the town. In its first year, the town’s structure included a general store, a hotel, a turpentine still, an ice plant, and a small railroad depot.[5] A second railroad, the Seaboard Air Line Railroad (SAL), completed construction in 1915, with its first train arriving on April 5, 1915.[6] By March of 1916, the population of Lake Wales had risen to 300 residents.

Although America’s entry into World War I halted immediate progress in construction, the city experienced its greatest period of growth during the "boom years" of the 1920s, following rapidly on the heels of Armistice Day.[7] In 1920, the population was 795, and by 1928, it had swelled to 5,000.[8] The number of building permits also increased from 49 in 1922 to 248 in 1925. To replace the nearby smaller depot, the ACL Railroad Depot was built in 1928 by R. W. Burrows Construction Company at 325 South Scenic Highway in Lake Wales. The Mediterranean Revival-style, brick station with a barreled-tile roof cost approximately $51,000.[9] The city’s expansion slowed in the 1930s due to the Great Depression. While the depot expanded in 1938, adding a loading platform and freight room, passenger service was discontinued in 1954, and freight service ended in 1974.[10]

Lake Wales Depot Museum Dedication Ceremony

The dedication ceremony for the Lake Wales Museum and Cultural Center on July 4, 1976.

U.S. National Register of Historic Places Dedication Marker for the Lake Wales Train Depot

This plaque recognizes the Lake Wales Train Depot's initiation into the National Register of Historic Places.

Recognizing the historical significance of the building, and in order to commemorate the nation’s bicentennial anniversary, the Bicentennial Commission of Florida, along with Mimi Hardman, a volunteer from Lake Wales, converted the building into the Lake Wales Museum and Cultural Center, also known as The Depot, in 1976.[11] The museum was dedicated on July 4, 1976.[12] The local history museum was operated with the support of the City of Lake Wales and the Historic Lake Wales Society until it temporarily closed for renovations in 2014. It is set to reopen in May 2016. On August 31, 1990, the depot was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Lake Wales Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Depot and Lake Wales Depot Museum

In 1976, the depot was repurposed, becoming the Lake Wales Museum and Cultural Center.

[1] United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places: Lake Wales Multiple Property Listing, April 12, 1990, E, 2.

[2] IbidE, 1.

[3] IbidE, 2.

[4] Ibid.

[5] IbidE, 3.

[6] Ibid.

[7] IbidE, 5.

[8] IbidE, 8.

[9] Michael Mulligan, Railroad Depots of Central Florida (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2008), 33.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Mulligan, Railroad Depots of Central Florida.; National Register of Historic Places: Lake Wales Multiple Property Listing.

[12] "Depot Museum Dedication," Lake Wales Public Library, accessed December 9, 2015,