Bartow is a historic, Southern town in Polk County, Florida. As county seat, there is a large difference in the number of people in the town during the day and the number of people who reside in Bartow.
While Florida was first obtained by the United States in 1819, the central and southern regions of this new territory remained largely uninhabited as a result of the hostile Seminole Indian tribe, heat, and the high humidity of the region. Following the end of the Second Seminole War in 1842, small groups of settlers began to trek into the interior of this region and build some of the first permanent settlements in this region, set up as forts to deter Seminole attacks. In 1851, the first permanent settlers reached this location near the headwaters of the Peace River and established Fort Blount (a quarter-mile west of the 1908 courthouse). The settlement remained small for many years. In 1861, Polk County was separated from Hillsborough County, with Fort Blout being chosen as the county seat. The Civil War halted development, but in 1867 county commissioners decided to rename Fort Blount in honor of Francis Bartow—the first Confederate officer to die in the war. A few years later, land donations from the cattle baron & largest landowner in the region, Jacob Summerlin, allowed the Polk County government and the city of Bartow to develop: 40 acres for the county government, 20 acres for a school, and 20 acres each for two churches. In 1887, the first brick schoolhouse south of Jacksonville was built and named "Summerlin Institute".
The only feasible way to enter Bartow is by car. Bartow is located at the confluence of US 17, US 98, and SR 60. Bus service is available from Lakeland or Winter Haven by the Citrus Connection bus service.
There is no public transportation in Bartow. The best way to get around the town is to drive, but walking is recommended in the commercial district and nearby historic district in order to best experience the town.