The phosphate industry has been an integral part of the evolution of Florida’s economy and way of life since deposits were first discovered in 1881. Before we knew how to mine phosphate, communities around the Peace River Valley like Polk, Hillsborough, Hardee, Manatee, and DeSoto County were vast plains home to only a few farms, cattle ranches and orange groves. Reliant on bone meal for fertilizer, farmers weren’t able to maximize the land’s agricultural potential. That was until engineer Captain J. Francis LeBaron discovered phosphate in Alachua county while surveying the Peace River in 1881. In the blink of an eye, Florida residents raced to get their hands on a piece of this land as they watched the Peace river transform from an isolated wilderness to Florida’s essential ingredient.
Phosphate in Polk County: A Brief History
Polk county’s success is largely due to its residents’ century-long prowess in expanding and strengthening the capabilities of phosphate mining. In the 1880s, Polk county locals William D. McRae and Henry E. Memminger acquired a plot of land they hoped to be rich in phosphorus. They were right. After teaming up with investors, McRae and Memminger founded the Lakeland Phosphate Company, forever transforming the economy of Polk County, Florida. Soon after, company towns were formed to give phosphate mining employees access to affordable, high-quality housing. In the March 1981 edition of the Polk County Historical Quarterly Newsletter, journalist Freddie Wright wrote, “One former inhabitant described life in the village as ‘country club living.’ There were morning coffees, afternoon card parties and neighborhood barbeques. Everybody knew everyone else, even the names of all the children and pets. Children walked to school, there were no locked doors. It was a wonderful time for families with small children.”
Phosphate in Hillsborough County
Like its neighbor, Hillsborough County also developed its own flourishing company town in response to the growing economy around the phosphate industry. Hillsborough still reminisces on the historic town of Coronet, a former phosphate-worker community of little over 300 people that was founded in 1908. Here, employees and their families enjoyed a clubhouse, library, swimming pool, movie theater, tennis courts, a nine-hole golf course, and a church. The town even took part in company-based baseball teams, as the Prairie Pebbles and miners competed against the neighboring Polk County teams. Just like today, the phosphate industry brought massive growth to the Hillsborough County community.
Phosphate in Manatee County – How Phosphate Transformed Local Economy
In the 1960s, Manatee County was eager to grow into the economically thriving community it is today. County officials took action in moving toward prosperity for their town by reaching out to the phosphate industry about the possibility of establishing a plant adjacent to Port Manatee. Here, they were able to grow their economy and ship phosphate products all across the world.
Phosphate in DeSoto County — A Brief History
It was 1881 when phosphate was discovered in DeSoto County. Since then, phosphate mining has been at the cornerstone of their county’s economy and culture. Not only did phosphate allow DeSoto County to experience massive growth within the community, but it also brought about the development of the 1907 Charlotte Harbor and Northern Railroad, which was initially used to transport phosphate freight to Boca Grande. The railroad heavily contributed to popularizing tourism in Boca Grande and partially operates still to this day.
The History of PG in Hardee County
Home to numerous operation sites, Hardee county has been reaping the benefits of phosphate for generations. Phosphate companies have worked to serve the Hardee community in order to give back to the people who provide our nation with such a valuable resource. Not only does the phosphate industry provide massive employment opportunities and prosperous economic growth to Hardee county, it also contributes directly to local community organizations. Over the past five years, phosphate companies donated $8 million to the Hardee County Education Foundation Endowment Fund and $775,892 to food relief programs, equipping the community with resources needed to thrive.