Roads notable in history, marketing of Imperial Polk County

WHEN OUR POLK COUNTY COMMISSION in Bartow approved a design for the county’s very first marketing logo early in 2014, officials said at the time the action wasn’t an attempt to replace the county’s then-67-year-old official seal.

The very familiar county seal — familiar to those of us at Tucker Paving and longtime Polk Countians, anyway — is the retro-looking circular one, in orange and green, with eight iconic images surrounding a shield topped by a five-pointed crown. Inside the shield are these three words: “Imperial Polk County.”

Through the years, many articles have been written about the story behind the “unofficial” nickname “Imperial Polk County,” and from our perspective as a company that was built on paving, it’s interesting to note that the name has a lot to do with roads, of all things.

The late historian, Hazel L. Bowman of Mulberry, traced the possible first use of “Imperial Polk County” to story in a May 15, 1914, “booster” edition of the Polk County Record newspaper.

Topped by the headline “Imperial Polk County — The Heart of Florida,” the article stated this: “The word ‘Imperial’ is not a misnomer as applied to Polk County. It is truly Imperial in every sense; in area, in extent and variety of resources and in the cosmopolitan character of its population …”

Here’s where the roads come in.

With Bowman’s research as a resource, The Ledger newspaper in Lakeland reported this February 2011:

“The phrase ‘Imperial Polk County‘ picked up steam a short time later when an initiative to build good roads took hold in the county. Starting in 1916, the county spent a then-unheard-of $1.5 million to build 217 miles of asphalt highways throughout the county, resulting in one of the best road systems then in the South, M.F Hetherington wrote in ‘A History of Polk County.’ ‘Imperial’ helped draw a correlation between Polk County and that other place ‘all roads lead to,’ Rome.”

Writing for the December 1993 issue of the Polk County Historical Quarterly, Bowman offered this:

“Among those who have sought the originator of the term ‘Imperial Polk’ is S.L. Frisbie IV, Bartow publisher of the Polk County Democrat who in 1969 interviewed a number of old timers and came up with their memories of arches across Polk roads at the end of the World War I which proclaimed to motorists that they were entering ‘Imperial Polk County. … Polk was then the most paved county in the southern states and a veritable automobiling mecca.”

Sean Mussenden, a staff writer for the Orlando Sentinel, offered this observation in an article published in January 2003: “Long before Walt Disney World, the county (Polk) became a destination for motorists as the automobile came into vogue, boasting more paved roads than anywhere else in the South.”

After all of this time and all of this history, it’s interesting to note, too, that Polk County’s now-14-year-old marketing logo (shown at the top with the 1947 county seal) also has a road theme. Stylized roads cross each other and overlay a rising sun, beckoning people to “Polk County — Florida’s Crossroads of Opportunity.”