Lakeland is a city in Polk County, Florida, United States, located approximately midway between Tampa and Orlando along Interstate 4. According to the 2008 U.S. Census Bureau estimate, the city had a population of 94,406. Lakeland is a principal city of the Lakeland-Winter Haven, Florida Metropolitan Statistical Area, which had an estimated population of 584,383 in July, 2009 based on data from the University of Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research. It is twinned with Richmond Hill, Ontario; Imabari, Japan; Balti, Moldova; Portmore, Jamaica; and Chongming County, Shanghai, China as part of the Sister Cities program.
The first Paleo-indians reached the central Florida area near the end of the last ice age, as they followed big game south. As the ice melted and sea levels rose, these Native Americans ended up staying and thrived on the peninsula for thousands of years. By the time the first Spanish conquistadors arrived, there were over 250,000 Native Americans living on the peninsula. Some of these first early tribes were the Tocobago, Timucua, and the Calusa. In 1527, a Spanish map showed a settlement near the Rio de la Paz. The arrival of the Spanish turned out to be disastrous to these Native American tribes. Within 150 years, the majority of the pre-Columbian Native American peoples of Florida had been wiped out. Those who had not succumbed to diseases such as Small Pox or Yellow Fever were either killed or enslaved. Little is left of these first Native Americans cultures in Polk County except for scant archeological records including a few personal artifacts and shell mounds. Eventually the remnants of these tribes would merge together with Creek Indians who arrived from the north and become the Seminole Indian tribe.
Florida became a state in 1845, and Polk County was established in 1861. After the American Civil War, the county seat was established twelve miles (19 km) southeast of Lakeland in Bartow. While most of the early history of Polk County centered around the two cities of Bartow and Ft. Meade, eventually people wandered into the areas in Northern Polk County and began settling in the areas which became Lakeland.