The city was platted in 1885, shortly after the South Florida Railroad reached the area. The city was first known as Clay Cut, but there was no railroad station. It is said that the inhabitants persuaded the railroad company to build a station by agreeing to rename their city Haines City, to honor a senior railroad official, Colonel Henry Haines.
The early settlers planted citrus groves, and citrus growing and processing became the main industry of the city.
From 1974 to 1986 Circus World, a theme park created by the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, was open just north of Haines City. After Circus World shut down, Boardwalk and Baseball opened on the same site. It featured carnival games and theme park styled rides like the Grand Rapids Flume. It closed in 1990, and the site has been redeveloped as a residential and shopping complex named Posner Park.
In recent years Haines City has seen explosive growth, largely because of its easy access to Orlando and Walt Disney World. New residential areas have been developed on the edges of the city. On high ground in the north of the city, Southern Dunes, a golf and country club with both vacation homes and residential homes, was developed between 1995 and 2005.
In 2004, unusually in a city so far inland, parts of Haines City experienced three hurricanes. Hurricane Charley passed through the city in August. Hurricane Frances came right on the heels of Charley but mostly just dumped a lot of rain. Hurricane Jeanne soon followed packing a punch not quite as strong as Charley but longer lasting. The city has since recovered.
Four years after Charley, Haines City got struck again this time by a weaker storm named Tropical Storm Fay. This storm caused little damage.
Haines City lies near the intersection of U.S. Highway 27 and U.S. Highway 17/92. US 27 has recently been improved and is now a 6 lane highway, connecting the city to Interstate 4 six miles (10 km) north.
There were 4,749 households out of which 30.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 49.3% were married couples living together, 17.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 28.2% were non-families. 23.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 12.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.73 and the average family size was 3.18.
In the city the population was spread out with 27.2% under the age of 18, 10.3% from 18 to 24, 25.0% from 25 to 44, 18.9% from 45 to 64, and 18.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 35 years. For every 100 females there were 96.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 91.1 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $27,636, and the median income for a family was $30,678. Males had a median income of $21,806 versus $19,279 for females. The per capita income for the city was $13,818. About 14.7% of families and 18.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 24.3% of those under age 18 and 11.2% of those age 65 or over.