At ABC Action News, we know it's the combination of all the communities that make Tampa Bay great to live in. That's why we've started a new series of reporting highlighting good things happening around town, discovering cool gems you may not know about, and uncovering the big news events impacting those areas.
On Friday, the Good Morning Tampa Bay team focused on Bartow.
One of Florida's first-ever tourist attractions is weird, wild — and once again open for business.
"The Wonder House" in Bartow is truly an architectural marvel, around 10,000 square feet of concrete and tile and sheer ingenuity.
All thanks to, and constructed by, an inventor named Conrad Schuck, a man who thought he was dying (he wasn't).
Bartow has been home to Polk County’s African American Heritage Museum for more than 20 years.
“Moving from here to there, on a shoestring budget so that means it took some grace in God to make this work,” said Harvey Lester, President of the Luster All Pastoral Care & Cultural Center, Inc.
It’s now sitting downtown on Summerlin Street.
“Hopefully this is home for us,” said Charles Luster, museum founder, director, and curator.
The museum was started by two brothers, Charles Luster and Harvey Lester.
Bartow is a quaint town that enjoys the ambiance of small-town America.
“Beautiful old homes, great neighborhoods, you enjoy just being here,” said Mayor Steve Githens.
Bartow has grown slowly because the city had little land available for residential development. A lot of the area was still devoted to agriculture and phosphate mining.
“Clear Springs they have the land out to the east and to the south. Mosiac has land to the west so that’s what pretty much has bounded our growth,” Githens said.
Now, that's beginning to change. Last year the city approved the Wind Meadows South subdivision project. It will contain 836 homes when complete.
Take a walk through downtown Bartow and you'll find just anything you can ask for.
Good restaurants, bakeries, and shopping.
Main Street Bartow is the organization responsible for connecting business owners but also preserving the history of downtown. Over the past few years, the area continues to grow.
In one of the most beautiful buildings downtown, you'll find the Polk County Historical Museum.
The white building, silver rotunda and clock on top are a focal point of downtown Bartow.
Inside, you can take a trip through Polk County's history.
L.B. Brown was a prominent black figure in Bartow. Born into slavery, he became a successful community leader and businessman in Polk County.
Today, you can take a tour of the house that he built by hand.
"Brown's story is not just an anecdote. It's well documented, just about everything we say about Mr. Brown, we can prove through documentation," Clifton Lewis, Curator of the L.B. Brown House Museum said. "So he was a very significant community builder, even a force in the community."
The home is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was restored several years ago after becoming abandoned.
Deep in the heart of Florida, across State Road 60 and down 17, a war approaches two decades. It’s a fight between generational farmers and every outside force below and above the soil to keep Florida oranges on trees and in your homes.
Citrus Famer Christian Spinosa and his family know the fight well.
“I've been working on our family citrus and beef cattle operation out of Bartow, Florida. I'm a fifth-generation citrus and beef cattle producer,” Spinosa said.
Back on the property of the Bartow Executive Airport, you'll find the Bartow Air Museum.
It'll take you through the airport's history as an airbase for Army Fighter Replacement Training during WWII.
Alexander Guzman is the school resource officer at Bartow High School. He's also a huge fan of the Disney TV series, "The Mandalorian."
"The Mandalorian, he is a protector, he is the person that takes care of baby Yoda in that series. So to me, I'm the Mandalorian on campus, I'm the protector of all the kids on campus," said Officer Guzman.
So, when Officer Guzman decided to remodel his office on campus, he searched the galaxy for the right person to complete the mission.
Hannah Mann is in eleventh grade at Bartow High and volunteered for the job.
Inside Florida Polytechnic University's Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute (FIPR) researchers are studying and extracting rare earth elements.
It's something we can't see with the naked eye but is found in things we use every single day.
But, China is the main supplier of the world's rare earth elements. So the team is working to see if they can extract rare earth elements from phosphate.
Plans are underway to tear down a historic cigar factory in Polk County.
The old Thomson & Co. Cigar Factory in downtown Bartow was built 96 years ago and was once a place where millions of cigars were manufactured and sold.
“It has a great history. It was a major employer back in the day and it’s just a beautiful structure,” said Trish Pfeiffer.
When you think about bluegrass music you might imagine some old folks in the Appalachian Mountains singing and playing the fiddle. However, that's not the case in Bartow, in fact, the exact opposite. The Union Academy Bluegrass Band consists of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders.
“I try not to tell the kids how awesome they are too much I just expect it and they keep rising to that level,” said Union Academy music teacher Kent Kesler.
Kesler remembers the first time he heard the sweet sounds of bluegrass when he was just a kid.