Bartow is the county seat of Polk County and was founded in 1851. In the 1850's, the first permanent settlers came to the area near the dead-waters of the "Peas River" (or Peace River) and established Fort Blount. This settlement was somewhat stalled by the American Civil War a decade later, although the County government, named after President James Polk, was established in 1861. 1n 1867, Fort Blount was renamed Bartow in honor of Francis S Bartow. He was the first brigade commander of the Confederate Army to die in combat during the American Civil War. A bronze marker at the corner of Main Street and Floral Avenue, about a quarter mile west of the Old Polk County Historical Museum and Genealogical Library, commemorates the fort.
The city is nicknamed the "City of Oaks and Azaleas". It has a number of districts within the city are on the National Register of Historic places. Some of the historic landmarks include the Old Polk County Courthouse, built in 1909 and the oldest high school in the county, Bartown High School, formerly Summerlin Institute. The city also has many historic homes built in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Over the years, Bartow has kept it's southern charm and small town feeling.
After the war, in 1867, the county commissioners decided the county seat should be named afterGeneral Francis S. Bartow, the first Confederate officer to die in the war, and so, the name of Fort Blount was changed to Bartow. A bronze marker at the corner of Main Street and Floral Avenue, about a quarter mile west of the Old Polk County Historical Museum and Genealogical Library, commemorates the fort.
Much of the community's history is attested to by the graves in the old Historic Oak Hill Cemetery. Many of the graves have Confederate markers, reminders of the nations’ Civil War. Grave sites include those of Readding Blount and Jacob Summerlin.
Bartow is 40 miles east of Tampa, and 60 miles southwest of Orlando, located at the intersection of U.S. Highway 98 and State Road 60.