Auburndale was carved out of the central Florida wilderness in 1884 when the South Florida Railroad selected the location to build a depot. Surrounded by clear, sand-bottomed lakes, the site was located almost equally between the ocean and gulf and was 14 miles from Bartow, the county seat. The new depot was named after Auburndale, Massachusetts, which was the hometown of one of the owners. When completed, the depot was the only building in sight. Settlers quickly realized the advantage of being close to the railroad, and by 1889 Auburndale had 30 homes and a population of 270. One church, seven stores, a livery stable, two hotels, and a sawmill lined the sandy streets. The young community survived fires that destroyed Main Street twice, a tornado that demolished their schools, and devastating freezes that killed citrus trees.