Photo Mystery Monday: October 19, 2015

This is one in a series of posts inviting our users to learn how to get the most information out of historic photos. We’ll post a new photo mystery every Monday, and then follow up with more information about the image on Friday. Get the conversation started by commenting on the blog and sharing it with your friends and family.

Be a photo detective! What is going on in this picture? What clues do you see? Where in Florida could this be?

What people, objects and activities do you notice? Let us know in the comments! Don’t be afraid to state the obvious. Noticing details can lead to greater insight.

Try an artist’s trick. Divide the photo into four quadrants and study each section. What new details do you see? Based on what you have observed, what can you infer from this photograph? What questions do you have?

Come back on Friday when we will update the post with more identifying information!


For Teachers: Photo interpretation is a great critical thinking activity for students. The Photo Analysis Worksheet from the National Archives lets you use any photo as an opportunity to analyze primary source documents.


This photo shows a safe being delivered to the Polk County Bank in Bartow by means of an ox team pulling a flatcar over temporarily laid railroad tracks.

Reader Patsy Glasscock noticed details such as the prevalence of men wearing hats, the difference between the men in more casual clothes compared to those in business attire, the lack of women in the photo and the presence of a child.

Several readers mentioned the gap in the rails on the dirt street, indicating that the track was temporary. Jon Hoppensteadt observed that no one in the photo was armed, indicating that the safe was probably empty.

We had originally had this photo dated some time in the 1800s. As Jo Reimer noted, the Polk County bank was organized in 1886. Thanks to diligent research by blog readers, and with confirmation from our Archives Historian, we’ve updated the catalog record.

Thanks all, and join us next Monday for a new photo!

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23 thoughts on “Photo Mystery Monday: October 19, 2015

  1. A broken section of track halted transportation of a huge safe or vault that day. A baby in a carriage on the lower left is a sweet touch.

  2. Because of the weight of a safe and not having large lift equipment they have laid temporary tracks for the special rail flat car to move it into town and to the bank in Bartow, FL. Land companies were very big business during and the late 1800’s and Bartow as small of a city as it was and still is today was in the middle of all the growth form Kissimmee to Lake Okeechobee and the eastern Tampa area. This required a large safe to protect the investors.

  3. This picture was taken in from of Brown’s Real Estate Agency. Sign at top of building in upper right quadrant says “Kissimmee.” There is a wagon carrying something big and rectangular, covered in what looks like a tarp which says “Polk County Bank Bartow.” Below it says “From Hall’s Safe & Lock Company Cincinnati.” The wagon sits on what looks like a railroad track and the wagon has wheels which fit on the track. The wagon is pulled by two bulls. It can’t go much farther, because the nearer part of the track is out of alignment. The end of one section is propped up by a board. A man is holding the reins to the bulls. He may have ridden the wagon while driving the bulls, but I can’t make out a seat. Otherwise he had to walk alongside them. Some of the men in the picture are dressed casually while others are dressed in business clothes. All the men are wearing hats of some sort. There are no women in the picture. In the lower left quadrant under a big oak tree there is a child sitting in what looks like a wheelchair. The people have posed for this picture.
    This looks like a major street in a downtown area, but the street is not paved.

  4. Is the break in the rail an important clue? Is this just a temporary stop because of the break in the rail or is this the destination? The sign on the side of the safe cover says “Polk County Bank” but the building says “Brown’s Real Estate Agency”. Is it being delivered to the bank? Possibly the bank is in this strip of buildings? Now that the safe is this far…how best to get it into the building to its spot? Do I see building supplies on the ground behind the oxen for a possible ramp?

  5. I am interested to find out if what appears to be a break in the rail is significant in interpreting the context of the image. The shadow of the gentleman at center seems to stretch farther than the shadow of the other people and animals.

  6. It seems a temporary rail was laid for the large safe. The safe Polk County Bank of Bartow, Florida and was sent from Halls Safe and Lock Company of Cincinnati, Ohio. The rail cart is being pulled by two large Oxen and driven by one person. There is a break in the temporary rail system, this must be the end of the line for the safe that is covered by some material The building has a sign that states Browns Real Estate Agency.

  7. The sign to the extreme right of the building states “Disston Land…” I can’t make out the last word. I read where Disston made what became known as Kissimmee his headquarters.

    • Here’s more information about Hamilton Disston.

      That picture looks more-and-more like Kissimmee around 1883-1889 or thereabouts. Maybe the train routes from that time will tell us more? How are they getting that safe to Bartow from Kissimmee? Is it there in Kissimmee for a marketing drive in Kissimmee? That safe making company looks like it was getting all the orders for safes it could handle in the 1880s.

      • The safe is going to the Polk County Bank of Bartow. In 1891 Polk County Bank of Bartow Reorganized as Polk County National Bank of Bartow. At that time they started printing currency. That would facilitate the need for a larger safe.

        The safe would have stayed on the train until the bitter end.

        The Disston Land Company was on E Main in Bartow in the 1890’s

        Just to the left of this picture would be the Old “Old Polk County Courthouse”

        The South Florida Railroad ran about 1/2 mi SE of the courthouse, and the oxen cart is traveling in a westerly direction, so that would make sense.

        If I had to guess, I would put the Polk County Bank of Bartow on North Broadway.

  8. A very young Billy the Kid (seen at left in the tiny wagon) and his gang using oxen to commit one of his only known bank heists…in broad daylight! It was a simple but effective plan.

  9. All interesting observations so far. I don’t believe the temporary rails are broken however.Since this is probably a one time endeavor, only four rails total would be needed for the entire trip, no matter the distance, as the wagon would only occupy two rails at any given moment. They would simply leapfrog one set to the front as the wagon rolled on to the next set of rails.

  10. The Polk County bank was organized in 1886. Hall’s Safe & Lock operated from 1867 and “quit” business in 1892. Disston Land Agency (sign in the upper right corner) was under the ownership of Hamilton Disston who also founded the Okeechobee Land company around 1883 and was located in Kissimmee. Kissimmee is an old cattle town which could explain the steers on the railcar. Disston died in 1896. Using these clues we can date the picture around 1885 (assuming early order of the safe in anticipation of the bank opening) to possibly a little after 1892 (when the safe company closed and transportation took a while). I doubt the rails had much of an issue with the “split” as I’m guessing that these rails just weren’t “nailed down” and as long as they were in alignment enough the rail car could have passed over it anyway as the weight of it would have taken care of the matter. Disston was also friends with Flagler and Plant, two railroad magnates of the era. I think the picture was taken on what is now known as Broadway, the old main drag, in Kissimmee as the building looks very much like some that still stand on that road today.

  11. I also agree that the rail isn’t an issue. There is a low spot just before the connection. The load will bring it down. I wonder why they don’t have workers with levels to make sure they stay aligned.

    I wonder what the fellow in the lower, left quad is holding? A small stick? A rolled up document?

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