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Lake Wales, Florida
Bok Tower rear.JPG
Flag of Lake Wales, Florida
Location in Polk County and the state of Florida
Location in Polk County and the state of Florida
Country United States
State Florida
County Polk
 • Total 20.12 sq mi (52.10 km2)
 • Land 18.84 sq mi (48.81 km2)
 • Water 1.27 sq mi (3.30 km2)
148 ft (45 m)
 • Total 16,361
 • Density 868.19/sq mi (335.22/km2)
Time zone UTC-5 (Eastern (EST))
 • Summer (DST) UTC-4 (EDT)
ZIP codes
Area code(s) 863
FIPS code 12-38950
GNIS feature ID 0285290
Website City of Lake Wales official site

Lake Wales is a city in Polk County, Florida. The population was 14,225 at the 2010 census. As of 2019, the population estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau is 16,759. It is part of the LakelandWinter Haven Metropolitan Statistical Area. Lake Wales is located in central Florida, west of Lake Kissimmee and east of Tampa.


Lake Wales Bullard House01
The B. K. Bullard House

The land around the present city was surveyed in 1879 by Sidney Irving Wailes, who changed the name of a lake, then known as Watts Lake, to Lake Wailes.

The city of Lake Wales was established near the lake in 1911–12, planned by the Lake Wales Land Company. The spelling Wales was used for the city, although the lake is still generally spelled Lake Wailes. Allen Carleton Nydegger, a Civil Engineer, was contracted by the Lake Wales Land Company to plot out the community of Lake Wales. He and his crew camped on the shores of Crystal Lake and spent months plotting out the new community. In 1925 the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad built a new line from Haines City joining lines to Everglades City. A depot was opened on this line at Lake Wales. The City of Lake Wales was officially incorporated in April 1917.

In 2004, Lake Wales endured the effects of three hurricanes which came through the area: Hurricane Charley, Hurricane Frances and Hurricane Jeanne. The three hurricanes brought hurricane-force winds to the Lake Wales area within a space of 44 days.

Geography and climate

The town lies near the geographical center of the Florida peninsula. Lake Wales is located on the Lake Wales Ridge, a sandy upland area running roughly parallel to both coasts in the center of the peninsula. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 14.0 square miles (36 km2), of which 13.4 square miles (35 km2) is land and 0.7 square miles (1.8 km2) (4.71%) is water.

Lake Wales is located in the humid subtropical zone of the (Köppen climate classification: Cfa). In 2004, the eyes of Hurricanes Charley, Frances and Jeanne all passed near the town. Virtually all physical damage has been restored.

Wildlife and environmental lands

Grassy Lake Preserve is a 185 acres (0.75 km2) preserve located behind Janie Howard Wilson Elementary School. Grassy Lake is primarily made up of Lake Wales Ridge scrub land.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1920 796
1930 3,401 327.3%
1940 5,024 47.7%
1950 6,821 35.8%
1960 8,346 22.4%
1970 8,240 −1.3%
1980 8,466 2.7%
1990 9,670 14.2%
2000 10,194 5.4%
2010 14,225 39.5%
2020 16,361 15.0%
U.S. Decennial Census

As of the census of 2010, there were 14,225 people (2014 Estimate put the population at 15,140, according to the U.S. Census Bureau), 5,038 households, and 3,778 families residing in the city. The population density was 761 inhabitants per square mile (294.8/km2). There were 6,900 housing units at an average density of 344.5 per square mile (133.0/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 65% White, 27.5% African American, 0.50% Native American, 0.8% Asian, 0.10% Pacific Islander, 3.9% from other races, and 2.2% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 15.6% of the population.

There were 5,038 households, out of which 23.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 43.1% were married couples living together, 17.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 34.7% were non-families. 29.3% of all households were made up of individuals, and 14.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.4 and the average family size was 2.92.

In the city, the population was spread out, with 26.5% under the age of 19, 6.0% from 20 to 24, 20.2% from 25 to 44, 24.2% from 45 to 64, and 23% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 42.1 years. For every 100 females, there were 88.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 81.1 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $36,285, and the median income for a family was $47,785. Males had a median income of $33,896 versus $28,631 for females. The per capita income for the city was $16,106. About 20.8% of families and 26.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 42.1% of those under age 18 and 7.9% of those age 65 or over.

Local attractions

The sign at Spook Hill
  • Bok Tower Gardens
  • Camp Mack's River Resort
  • Spook Hill, an optical illusion which makes a car in neutral appear as if it is traveling uphill (gravity hill)
  • The commercial historic district in the heart of the old town contains important examples of architecture from the period of the Florida land boom of the 1920s. The district's tallest building, the Hotel Grand, has been boarded up for many years but has been purchased and is in the process of being restored.
  • Grove House, the visitor's center for the agricultural cooperative Florida's Natural (located across from the company's processing plant).
  • Chalet Suzanne This attraction has closed.
  • The Shrine of Ste Anne des Lacs
  • From, "Fun Things to do near Winter Haven"


  • US 27 – This divided highway leads northward to Haines City and Interstate 4 going north, and Frostproof, Sebring, and eventually Miami going south.
  • State Road 60 – Also known as Hesperides Road, it leads eastward to Florida's Turnpike and Vero Beach. Westward the highway leads to Bartow and the Tampa Bay region.
  • State Road 17 – The Scenic Highway running through the center of town, paralleling US 27 southward to Frostproof and northward to Haines City

Bus service is provided to Winter Haven and Frostproof by Winter Haven Area Transit.

Lake Wales Municipal Airport (FAA LID: X07) is a public-use airport located 2 miles (3.2 km) west of the central business district of the city of Lake Wales in Polk County, Florida, United States. The airport is publicly-owned.

Chalet Suzanne Air Strip This single grass strip four miles north of downtown serves light aircraft arriving at the Chalet Suzanne Inn and Restaurant, a local landmark.

Retirement villages

Lake Wales has three retirement villages. Two of them are outside city limits, but are considered to be part of Lake Wales, because it is the closest city. The first retirement village is Tower Lakes, which is on US 27. The second is Saddlebag Lake Resort, 9 miles from Lake Wales. Indian Lakes is 20 miles from Lake Wales. These last two are located on Hesperides Road.


Lake Wales is home to twelve schools, six of which are charter, three of which are traditional public schools and three private schools. Dale R Fair Babson Park Elementary, Hillcrest Elementary, Janie Howard Wilson Elementary, Polk Avenue Elementary and Lake Wales High School were converted to charter status in the Fall of 2004. Edward W. Bok Academy Middle opened in the Fall of 2008 to create a seamless K–12 charter system. McLaughlin Middle School and Fine Arts Academy, Roosevelt Academy Of Leadership And Applied Technology School, and Spook Hill Elementary School are still traditional public schools. Lake Wales Lutheran School, Candlelight Christian Academy, and The Vanguard School are private.

The district is home to 4,675 students: 56.56% White, 31.38% Black, 0.3% Asian, 11.66% Hispanic and 0.11% Native American.

Lake Wales is also home to two colleges, Warner University and Webber International University. The J.D. Alexander Center, a satellite campus of Polk State College is located in downtown Lake Wales in 2009.

Notable people

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