Town's legacy displayed inside 1920s-era train station

Lakes Wales Museum offers a glimpse into city's past

POLK COUNTY, Fla. – Every town has a unique way of celebrating its history. In Lake Wales that means a museum in a decades-old train station. 

Bartholomew Delcamp curates the Lake Wales Museum in the town's original 1928 Atlantic Coast line railroad station.

"We're going into what was originally the main cargo holding area for the depot, but now this is our permanent exhibit gallery. So here we talk about the history of Lake Wales, the industries such as cattle and citrus," Delcamp said.

The line, now out of service, ran from Miami, up the center of Florida to New York and the Midwest.

"It was basically the center of activity and it was what allowed the town to grow, bring people here, economy, bring industry here and also ship things out," Jennifer D'Hollander, director of the museum, said. 

Forty-two years after the station stopped passenger and freight operations, it was turned into the city's museum.

"This trunk is a collection of artifacts from World War II. People in Lakes Wales have participated in every major war since the town was founded," Delcamp said.

Some of the items date back to Lake Wales' founders in 1911. Among the displays is a train caboose from 1926.

"This is actually the only one original to Lake Wales that actually ran on these tracks. The point of the train caboose is this is where the rail employees could relax. This is kind of where they lived," Delcamp said.

Another part of the museum is the original cargo area built in 1938, 10 years after the construction of the train station.

Today, it serves as the gallery for lectures and traveling exhibits. Artifacts from the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum in the Everglades and a more than 1,000-year-old, 21-foot canoe found in Bartow are currently on display. 

"The city has actually preserved this and other historic buildings in the city so that we can connect people from the past with people from today," D'Hollander said.

The museum also offers programs for teachers through its suitcase program.

"They can take it to their classroom. It's full of artifacts and old photographs and they can learn about different subjects, so we have one on pioneers, one on industry, we have one on citrus and the Florida Seminoles," D'Hollander said.

D'Hollander said there's something for everyone at the museum.

"Depending on whether or not you're interested in trains or old buildings or industry, you just want to kind of know what did it look like 100 years ago? You're gonna see all that and learn about that here," D'Hollander said. "Right now is when we need people to come and really kind of support us and cheer us on and participate in what we're doing here."

The Lakes Wales Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at no cost to the public. 

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