Lakeland is home to generation upon generation of founding fathers. The Munn, Pipkin, Bryant, Trammell, Peterson, Holland and Drane families all had a hand in the start of the city and many of their descendants still live here today. Publix Supermarkets were founded in neighboring Winter Haven in 1930 before relocating to desirable Lakeland. George W Jenkins resided here until his death and his legacy is upheld by his heirs. The founder of the airport, former WWII Bomber pilot P Scott Linder, built both the airport and his home here. Our lakes have produced world class water skiers: George Blair, Frankie Dees and Scott Ellis. Many celebrities have called Lakeland and the surrounding cities home over the centuries: Tammy Wynette and George Jones, Frances Langford, Ben Hill Griffin, Jr., Charles Canady, Edward Bok, Andy Bean, Adam Putnam, Ray Lewis, Joe Nemecheck III, Rowdy Gaines, Amare Stoudemire, Lou Whitaker and Tracy McGrady to name just a few.
Lakeland was founded by Abraham Munn who funded the city from his own pocket. He built a railroad and donated what is now Munn Park to the city. Abraham was not a boastful man and chose to name the city Lakeland rather than after himself. He did allow the park to be named in his honor and it has remained the center jewel of downtown. He also built the Terrace Hotel which sits just off the park and is still thriving today.
Early industries to Lakeland were strawberries, cattle, citrus and phosphate. Lakeland was the third town in Florida to gain electric lighting. In the Spanish-American War, Lakeland opened the city to house nearly nine thousand troops, many of which returned after the war to settle. Soon it had a newspaper, jail, general store and schools. Churches began to build and a hospital soon followed.
Downtown still showcases many of the first buildings and features various memorials marking significant events. Four of those buildings were built by Robert Bryant, who later donated the land on which the Lakeland High School Football Stadium is built. Keeping with the family legacy, Robert’s brother, Thomas, who became a prominent businessman and politician, built the stadium itself. He would also become a major contributor to bringing lighting downtown as well as the no fence law and tick eradication in the cattle industry. In his later years the Thomas W Bryant Space Science Research Building was erected and named after him.