Discover the captivating history and vibrant present of Winter Haven, Florida. Explore exciting events and experience the charm of this remarkable city.


Winter Haven, located in Polk County, Florida, has a fascinating history that spans centuries. From its earliest Native American inhabitants to the growth of the citrus industry and the advent of tourism, Winter Haven has continually evolved, adapting to new opportunities while preserving its unique Florida charm.

Founding and Early History

Winter Haven has roots that extend back to the Native American tribes, including the Calusa, Timucua, and Seminole, who inhabited the region for centuries before European settlers arrived. The city was officially incorporated in 1911, named for its pleasant winter climate. However, settlement in the area began in the late 19th century when pioneers like Frederick T. Garner were drawn to Winter Haven by the promise of Florida’s burgeoning citrus industry.

The Citrus Era

Like many Florida communities, Winter Haven thrived during the citrus era. Situated within the “Citrus Belt,” the city took advantage of Florida’s ideal citrus-growing climate. Groves and packing houses dotted the landscape, and the local economy revolved around the citrus industry. The arrival of the South Florida Railroad in 1884 played a pivotal role in Winter Haven’s growth by enabling the efficient shipment of citrus fruits to distant markets.

Historic Influence of Publix

Winter Haven boasts a significant historic influence through the presence of Publix supermarkets. Founded in Winter Haven in 1930 by George W. Jenkins, Publix has grown to become one of the largest and most successful supermarket chains in the United States. With its headquarters still based in Winter Haven, Publix has provided employment opportunities for residents and actively supports local initiatives and charities. The success of Publix has contributed to Winter Haven’s reputation as a business-friendly city.

The Advent of Tourism

Winter Haven’s skiing history has left an indelible mark on the city’s identity and tourism industry. The founding of Cypress Gardens in 1936 by Dick Pope Sr. marked the beginning of Winter Haven’s prominent role in promoting water skiing as a popular sport and entertainment. Cypress Gardens became known as “Florida’s first theme park,” captivating audiences with its dazzling water ski shows, breathtaking botanical gardens, and Southern Belle charm. The park’s innovative water skiing tricks, such as the human pyramid, propelled Winter Haven onto the international tourism map. Over the years, Winter Haven has been home to many water skiing pioneers and athletes, including the renowned Pope family. While Cypress Gardens closed its doors in 2009, its legacy lives on in Winter Haven’s transformation into Legoland Florida, which retained some of the park’s tradition and history. The skiing history of Winter Haven continues to draw visitors, and the city’s lakes remain a popular destination for water sports enthusiasts.

More Famous People from Winter Haven: Winter Haven has been home to numerous notable residents who have made significant contributions to various fields. Among them are:

  • Howard W. Blake: An influential African-American composer and conductor.
  • John Michael Montgomery: A country music singer known for his numerous hit songs.
  • Andy Bean: A professional golfer who has achieved multiple victories on the PGA Tour.
  • Colt Ford: A country rapper and songwriter known for his unique musical style.
  • Russ Mattick: A former Major League Baseball player who represented the Boston Red Sox.

Modern Winter Haven and Economic Shifts

After the closure of Cypress Gardens in 2009, Winter Haven underwent a transformation when the site was repurposed into Legoland Florida in 2011. This shift brought a new wave of tourism to the city. Additionally, Winter Haven has diversified its economy beyond tourism, with the establishment of the CSX Integrated Logistics Center in 2014, a significant transportation and logistics hub.

Winter Haven – Today & Tomorrow

Tourism remains a vital part of the economy, with Legoland Florida attracting visitors from around the world. Winter Haven’s Chain of Lakes, a network of 24 interconnected lakes, offers abundant recreational opportunities for boaters, fishers, and nature lovers. The city has made efforts to revitalize its downtown area, attracting new businesses and fostering a vibrant arts scene. Winter Haven is also home to Polk State College and several historic landmarks that reflect its rich history.

With its strategic location between Tampa and Orlando, Winter Haven is poised for a promising future. Plans are in works to further revitalize the city and transform it into a hub for innovation and technology. Winter Haven’s history of adaptation and resilience suggests it will continue to reinvent itself while maintaining its unique Florida charm.


Winter Haven’s rich history encompasses the growth of the citrus industry, the historic influence of Publix supermarkets, the rise of tourism with Cypress Gardens, and the achievements of its notable residents. Today, Winter Haven thrives as a vibrant community with a diverse economy, anchored by the citrus industry and tourism. The city’s future appears promising, with plans for further revitalization and an emphasis on innovation and technology. Winter Haven’s enduring spirit of adaptation and resilience ensures it will continue to evolve and thrive while retaining its distinct Florida allure. Get out, take a look around, and explore. There is so much to Winter Haven to enjoy!