Bok Tower Gardens is a beautiful garden and bird sanctuary located in Lake Wales, Florida. It consists of a 250-acre garden, the 205-foot tall Singing Tower with its carillon bells, Pine Ridge Trail, Pinewood Estate, and a visitor center.
The tower is built upon Iron Mountain, one of the highest points in Florida, which is nearly 300 feet above sea level. It is a National Historic Landmark that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, nationally significant for its association with Edward W. Bok and its designers.
The gardens got their start in 1921 when Edward W. Bok and his wife Mary Louise Curtis Bok decided they wanted to build a bird sanctuary at the highest hill where they spent their winters: Lake Wales Ridge. Bok commissioned a notable landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., to transform the sandhill into "a spot of beauty second to none in the country."
The Olmsted plan included the planting of 1,000 large live oaks, 10,000 azaleas, 100 sabal palms, 300 magnolias, and 500 gorgonians, as well as hundreds of fruit shrubs such as blueberry and holly. It took 5 years to build the gardens and it was dedicated by President Calvin Coolidge on February 1, 1929.
The centerpiece of the property is the 205-foot tall Singing Tower. Built on the highest elevation of the site, it can be seen even before you enter the property. Construction on the tower began in 1927 and was completed for the dedication of the gardens in 1929 when it was dedicated. Edward Bok died on January 9, 1930, and his remains are located at the base of the Singing Tower.
The tower itself has gothic and art deco components. The tower is surrounded by a 15-foot moat that serves as a pond for massive koi fish. It is built of pink Etowah marble and gray Creole marble, mined in Tate, Georgia, and coquina stone from St. Augustine, Florida. Inside the bell chamber is a playing room that houses a clavier, or keyboard, that is used for playing the carillon bells. Recitals are given daily from the 60-bell carillon set.
The Pinewood Estate Mansion holds furniture, ceramics, and other objects that were kept in the house before Bok Tower purchased it in 1970. Other collections held at Pinewood Estate include letters, promotional materials, and manuscripts. Pinewood Estate is open to the public throughout most of the year at a small fee. Unfortunately, I haven't had an opportunity to go inside, but it is very beautiful on the outside.
There are a variety of gardens on the property. I recommend not going in the summer, like my most recent trip, because it can be very hot in the areas without much tree cover. However, much of the gardens are kept shaded by massive oak trees. The main trails are paved but there are also secondary trails marked out usually with wood mulch.
You are surrounded by the sound of a variety of birds and many types of butterflies. There are several ponds with fish, frogs, and aquatic plants; I'm sure there must be an alligator or two, because well: Florida.
For anyone looking to get out of the hustle of Orlando or Tampa and looking for a bit of old-world Florida, a visit to Bok Tower Gardens is a must. The admission in 2020 was only $15 per adult and it is worth it to escape the theme parks and be immersed in a natural Florida park.
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