Munn Park is an oasis of green in downtown Lakeland, where people can spend a quiet moment amidst the trees and flowers. It has been a part of the city’s landscape since before there was officially a City of Lakeland. Abraham Munn, after whom the park was eventually named, was a Louisville, Kentucky businessman, who in 1882 purchased 80 acres of Polk County land sight unseen. Those 80 acres were to become the heart of Lakeland.
Munn formed the Lakeland Improvement Company in February 1884. The company platted the 80 acre site, laid out streets, and offered lots for sale. In the course of doing this, the company produced what is most likely the first map of Lakeland. Its 1884 map of the proposed town included in its center a “town square” or public park on land which Munn had set aside and later deeded to the town for that purpose. Munn also donated land just north of the public park to Henry Plant’s South Florida Railroad for use as rail yards and a depot. He thought the park would be a pleasant sight for passengers to see when they disembarked from the trains. Thus when the town of Lakeland was officially incorporated by a vote of its citizens on January 1, 1885, it had a public park and a railroad depot just to the north of the park. The City Commission recognized Abraham Munn’s contributions to Lakeland by renaming City Park Munn Park in his honor in 1908.
In the late 1950s and early 1960’s, the park’s simple pattern of an outer circular walk and bisecting inner walkways was replaced with a hodgepodge of meandering and crisscrossing walks. Worse, a mammoth hexagonal fountain was built in the southwest corner of the park. Dubbed the “waltzing waters” or the “magic fountain,” it combined multiple geysers of water with colored pulsating lights. Its size and garishness overwhelmed the understated landscape of Munn Park.
Finally, in 1989 a combination of public and private funding totaling over $300,000 was raised to restore Munn Park to the way it looked in the 1920’s. The 1960’s hexagonal fountain and meandering walkways were uprooted, new benches were installed, a small decorative fountain was placed on the north side of the park, and a brick and wrought iron archway was constructed at the southwest entrance to the park at Kentucky Avenue and East Main Street. A similar archway was later installed at the northwest entrance at Tennessee Avenue and East Main Street.
The renovated and restored Munn Park once again became the social and cultural center of the city. It hosted afternoon and evening concerts, ethnic and holiday fairs and festivals, farmers’ markets, and became the regular home of Arts in the Park and Politics in the Park.
This small collection of posters illustrates the wide variety of events hosted by Munn Park, the vibrant heart of downtown Lakeland.