About “Imperial Polk County”

The Term “Imperial Polk County” Is Traced Back to 1914

Who added “Imperial” to the name of Polk County? This intriguing question comes up as regularly as the orange blossoms in spring to the staff of Polk County Historical and Genealogical Library in Bartow. Now once again a definitive answer has been sought, this time with some success.

But first it must be said that “imPERial Polk” is one of those alliterative phrases of spoken English coming so naturally to the tongue that it probably has been “invented” more than once by those seeking a way to emphasize the centrality of Florida’s largest and long its richest county per capita (as claimed in 1914).

“Peerless Polk” is another and more accurate sobriquet, believes Glenn Hooker of Haines City, organizing president of the Polk County Historical Association and himself a tireless booster of this area. But “Peerless Pinellas” has long been used, and no doubt Polk will remain Imperial for all time.

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.”

Frisbie’s informants gave credit to W. S. “Mose” Wev, County Commission clerk, for putting up the arches that called attention to the 217 miles of asphalt paid for by the 1916 voter-approved bond issue of $1,500,000. Polk was then the most paved county in the southern states and a veritable automobiling mecca.

But Wev’s phrase must not have caught on because new arches over newly widened pavings of the early 1920s had a simple “Welcome to Polk County.” And there the matter stands until after 1942 when Roy P. Gladney, a former Georgian, was elected to the County Commission from the Mulberry district. Gladney once told this writer that the phrase “Imperial Polk County” just popped into his mind when he was addressing a group of national officials. From that time on he not only sincerely believed he had coined the phrase but he made it a part of his constant boosting of Polk County, proved by his notes for speeches before local, state and national groups.

It is not surprising that the 1954 bronze plaque at the corner of Davidson and Broadway in Bartow on the entrance to the first County Commission building is headed by the words “Imperial Polk County.” And an examination of County Commission letterhead no doubt will prove that the same phrase and the current orange and green county logo originated about the same time, when Roy Gladney was chairman of the County Commission.

But the fact is that neither Wev or Gladney can be credited with first using “Imperial Polk.” That honor must go to one of three men who got out a special edition of The Polk County Record on Friday, May 15, 1914. J.G. Gallemore from Missouri had acquired the paper in 1911, had built a new building and installed Linotype and new electric presses by 1913, and was putting out his first “booster” edition.

The Record itself usually ran 12 pages per regular edition with a staff of two to do all the writing. To handle a Polk County booster edition, Gallemore brought in Will Boyd Collins of Jacksonville, who produced booster editions from California to Florida, and C.C. Worthington of Tampa, an experienced writer.

The special edition appears to have been a 10-page insert in the regular 12-page Record, but since no pagination was used by Gallemore, the reader must be referred to the third page of the insert which is headed “Imperial Polk County – The Heart of Florida.” The first sentence says: “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….”

Who wrote the head and the piece on Polk County? Probably not Gallemore, who no doubt had his hands full with the regular edition. But he did apparently adopt the phrase and place it on Record stationery where it was still appearing as late as the 1930s, perhaps longer. Wev, and possibly Gladney, had ample opportunity to see Record letterhead and subconsciously pick up on it.

As to which man, Collins or Worthington, wrote “Imperial Polk County – The Heart of Florida,” toss a coin. Until the now possible computer study of individual writing patterns is employed, the mystery will remain. Let’s just say The Polk County Record first used the phrase “Imperial Polk County” on May 15, 1914.

From Polk County Historical Quarterly
Vol. 20, No. 3, December 1993

Provided by Hazel L. Bowman, 1989