By Mike Miller Updated January 19, 2023
Haines City, Florida is a town of about 28,061 people in Polk County in Central Florida. It is near the intersection of US-27 and US-17/92.
The town is six miles south of Interstate 4, 19 miles west of Walt Disney World, and about 38 miles west of downtown Orlando.
The entire area around I-4 and US-27 is loosely referred to as Haines City although the town proper is to the south.
The motto of the City of Haines City is "The Heart of Florida."
Haines City, Florida was first platted in 1885, and was known as Clay Cut. Not long after that, the South Florida Railroad reached the area but didn't put a station in town.
Local history says the early settlers persuaded the railroad to build a station by agreeing to rename their town after a railroad official, Colonel Henry Haines.
In the early days, and still to some degree, the area was in the middle of some of the most fertile citrus groves in the state.
Citrus growing and processing became the main business of Haines City.
The Polk Hotel was built in the 1920s and was one of the largest and most elegant hotels in Central Florida. The brochure images below give you an idea of what it was like back in the day.
A major employer in Haines City was Suni-Citrus Products Company, founded by a man named Emory Cocke. This company had developed special processes to convert orange peels and pulp into cattle feed.
I met Mr. Cocke during my engineering career many years ago, and he was an interesting man.
His office ran efficiently even though it looked like it was right out of a 1930 movie with old telephones, typewriters and a general vintage atmosphere.
In recent years Haines City has seen tremendous population growth because of its easy access to job centers in Tampa, Orlando, Walt Disney World and Universal Studios.
In the early 1970s Haines City had its own theme park, Circus World. It failed and was reborn as "Boardwalk and Baseball."
That had a good run but finally closed and the site is now a large commercial center at I-4 and US-27.
Some of this growth has resulted in prosperity for the town as can be seen in the newly opened Lake Eva Community Center and Lake Eve Park shown in the photo above.
Lake Eva Park has an aquatic attraction with water slides that the kids really enjoy. The park is one of the favorite places in Haines City for the whole family to enjoy.
New subdivisions have been developed on the edges of the city, especially in the areas near I-4 north of the city.
One of the largest of these is Southern Dunes Golf and Country Club.
These modern developments are in stark contrast with the old Palm Crest Hotel, formerly known as the Polk Hotel, in downtown Haines City that has dominated the skyline since the 1920's.
The hotel is now the home of Landmark Baptist College.
Like most smaller Florida towns, the downtown area is the last to be modernized.
The northern end of the Scenic Highway 17, is in Haines City and follows along the east side of US-27 all the way down to Sebring along the sandy Lake Wales Ridge.
It is a ride I highly recommend. You will enjoy the thousands of acres of citrus groves that are the most prominent scenery through this hilly lake filled region.
Another interesting drive is to take US-17 west out of Haines City and drive through Lake Alfred about 12 miles to Winter Haven.
Winter Haven is home to dozens of lakes and a major theme park, Legoland.
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By Mike Miller, Copyright 2009-2023
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