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
Coordinates: 27°54′17″N 81°35′3″W / 27.90472°N 81.58417°W / 27.90472; -81.58417Coordinates: 27°54′17″N 81°35′3″W / 27.90472°N 81.58417°W / 27.90472; -81.58417
CountryUnited States
 • Total20.12 sq mi (52.10 km2)
 • Land18.84 sq mi (48.81 km2)
 • Water1.27 sq mi (3.30 km2)
Elevation148 ft (45 m)
 • Total16,361
 • Density868.19/sq mi (335.22/km2)
Time zoneUTC-5 (Eastern (EST))
 • Summer (DST)UTC-4 (EDT)
ZIP codes
Area code863
FIPS code12-38950[3]
GNIS feature ID0285290[2]
WebsiteCity 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.[4] 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.


The B. K. Bullard House
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.[5]

The city of Lake Wales was established near the lake in 1911–1912, planned by the Lake Wales Land Company.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8]

In 2004, Lake Wales endured the effects of three hurricanes which came through the area: Hurricane Charley, Hurricane Frances and Hurricane Jeanne.[9] The three hurricanes brought hurricane-force winds to the Lake Wales area within a space of 44 days. In 2017, Hurricane Irma brought more hurricane-force winds to Lake Wales.


The town lies near the geographical center of the Florida peninsula. Lake Wales is located on the Lake Wales Ridge,[10] 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).[11] In 2004, the eyes of Hurricane Charley, Hurricane Frances, and Hurricane Jeanne all passed near the town. Virtually all physical damage has been restored.


Climate data for Lake Wales, Florida (Mountain Lake), 1991–2020 normals
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °F (°C) 74.7
Daily mean °F (°C) 62.4
Average low °F (°C) 50.0
Average precipitation inches (mm) 2.64
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 5.9 5.5 5.6 5.3 6.8 13.6 13.8 14.3 11.3 6.9 4.3 5.3 98.6
Source: NOAA[12][13]

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.

Government and politics

Lake Wales, Florida has a commission/manager form of government. Five city commissioners are elected to serve two-year terms. Four of the commission members are elected by the citizens at large but must reside in the district represented by the seat to which they are elected and the other commission member is elected by the citizens at large to serve as mayor and can reside in any district of the city.[14]

In 2016, a Lake Wales police office, Travis Worley, was accused by a whistleblower on the Lake Wales police force of calling a black suspect the N-word. The department suspended Worley for one day, but denied that he had used a racial slur. In 2019, he was named Lake Wales’ Officer of the Year. The whistleblower said she was subsequently targeted for punishment by the Lakes Wales police department and ultimately resigned. Worley has subsequently been accused on at least two occasions of using the N-word, including once in front of students at the local high school.[15]


Historical population
Census Pop.
U.S. Decennial Census[16]

As of the census[3] of 2010, there were 14,225 people[17] (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/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.[18]

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.[18]

Local attractions

The sign at Spook Hill
The sign at Spook Hill

Notable people


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.


See also: Media in Tampa Bay

Lake Wales is part of the Tampa/St. Pete television market, the 13th largest in the country and part of the local Lakeland/Winter Haven radio market, which is the 94th largest in the country.[26][27]


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.[28] Edward W. Bok Academy Middle opened in the Fall of 2008 to create a seamless K–12 charter system.[29] 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.[30]

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.[citation needed]

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.[30]


  1. ^ "2020 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved October 31, 2021.
  2. ^ a b U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Lake Wales, Florida
  3. ^ a b "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  4. ^ "Population and Housing Unit Estimates". Retrieved May 21, 2020.
  5. ^ Morris, A. (1974) Florida Place Names University of Miami Press
  6. ^ Frisbie, L.K. (1976) Yesterday's Polk County Imperial Publishing Company, Bartow, FL
  7. ^ Lake Wales Public Library. (n.d.) Allen Carleton Nydegger Digital Collection. Retrieved from
  8. ^ Adams, William (1992). Historic Lake Wales. St. Augustine, Florida: Southern Heritage Press. p. 20. ISBN 1-881470-00-8.
  9. ^ Suarez, Ken. As hurricane season starts again, memories of 2004 will always linger. Fox 13 Tampa Bay. June 1, 2021. Retrieved 2022-03-02.
  10. ^ "The Lake Wales Ridge: Ancient sands, diverse biota". Archbold Biological Station. 2010-09-24. Archived from the original on 2010-07-06. Retrieved 2010-09-24.
  11. ^ "World Map of the Köppen-Geiger climate classification updated". University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna. 2008-11-06. Archived from the original on 2010-09-06. Retrieved 2010-09-10.
  12. ^ "NOWData - NOAA Online Weather Data". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved May 23, 2021.
  13. ^ "Summary of Monthly Normals 1991-2020". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved May 23, 2021.
  14. ^ "City Commission | Lake Wales, FL - Official Website". Retrieved 2019-08-14.
  15. ^ "Cops who report excessive force and other misconduct risk". 2021. Retrieved 2021-11-15.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  16. ^ "Census of Population and Housing". Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  17. ^ "US Census". Archived from the original on 2016-01-14.
  18. ^ a b "U.S. Census website". 2010.
  19. ^ Florida Memory. (2022). The Legend of Spook Hill. Floridiana. Retrieved from
  20. ^ "Pat Borders Statistics and History -". Retrieved 7 April 2011.
  21. ^ "Wade Davis Statistics and History -". Retrieved 7 April 2011.
  22. ^ " - Bio". Retrieved 7 April 2011.
  23. ^ "Red Grange". College Football Hall of Fame. Football Foundation. Retrieved April 7, 2011.
  24. ^ "Dominique Jones NBA & ABA Statistics |". Retrieved 7 April 2011.
  25. ^ "Amare Stoudemire NBA & ABA Statistics |". Retrieved 7 April 2011.
  26. ^ "Top Nielsen Markets". TV By the Numbers. Retrieved 2010-10-19.
  27. ^ "Arbitron Markets". Arbitron. Retrieved 2010-10-19.
  28. ^ Dunn, Andrew (June 23, 2004). "Lake Wales Charter School Contracts OK'd". The Ledger. Retrieved 19 October 2011.
  29. ^ Carpenter, Maya (June 16, 2008). "Teachers prepare for opening bell; 92,236 students expected". Winter Haven News Chief. Retrieved 19 October 2011.
  30. ^ a b "About Lake Wales". City of Lake Wales. Archived from the original on 2011-10-08. Retrieved 2011-10-23.