In 1882, Abraham Munn came down from Louisville, KY and bought 80 acres of land in an unnamed part of Central Florida. In 1884, he platted the land and on January 1, 1885, the town of Lakeland was incorporated. Among the names considered (and rejected) for the town by its residents were Munnville, Red Bug and Rome City. The original 80 acres is where Downtown Lakeland stands today.
For a short time, Lakeland had a rival town on the south side of Lake Parker, the largest lake in the city. That town was called Acton. It had a church before Lakeland did, and more importantly, a railroad depot. Under mysterious circumstances the depot burned, and shortly thereafter a larger, modern structure was built in Lakeland. By the mid-1890s, 25 trains per day were stopping in Lakeland. Acton began to decline and was gone by 1906.
Because of the excellent railroad service, progressive outlook, and attractive location and elevation (227 feet), the community grew and prospered. Citrus and strawberries were big business, and by 1894 Lakeland was shipping more strawberries than any other place in the state. In 1898, 9,000 troops were stationed in Downtown Lakeland on the shores of Lakes Wire and Morton awaiting embarkation for Cuba during the Spanish-American War. During this time, Lakeland was the third largest city in Florida, behind Tampa and Jacksonville.
The area around Lake Mirror was designed to be a true community center based on Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.’s “City Beautiful” movement. The city continued to grow outwards from Downtown, however, and as happened to many city centers, the former hub was all but forgotten. In the 1970’s, the city started efforts to revitalize the historic Downtown area. This effort focused on redeveloping and rehabilitating the landscape and buildings and creating beautiful parks and green spaces, which brought Downtown back to her former glory.
Today, Downtown Lakeland is a vital and enjoyable place for residents and visitors. It has been dubbed “Lakeland’s living room” and truly embodies the community spirit of Lakeland.