Bok Tower Gardens: Architectural Wonders Amid Natural Beauty
“Give to the world the best you have and the best will come back to you.” — Edward W. Bok
When Bok Tower Gardens founder Edward W. Bok immigrated to America from the Netherlands at age six, he did not understand the language, customs or culture.
It was said that Bok and his family were so poor that he often roamed the streets of Philadelphia looks for scraps of coal in the streets that could collect to heat the family home.
During his ascent from poor immigrant to a Pulitzer prize-winning author and editor, he left his mark on American architecture and horticulture through his vision in creating Bok Tower Gardens.
The year was 1921; Edward Bok was spending winter months in the residential Mountain Lake community located adjacent to one of the highest hills on Florida’s Lake Wales Ridge. Enjoying his evening walks to the top of “Iron Mountain,” the idea came to him to preserve this hilltop and create a bird sanctuary – a place of beauty, serenity and peace.
A famous landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. was commissioned by Bok to change the arid sandhill he arranged to purchase, into “a spot of beauty second to none in the country.”
Designed by famed architect Milton B. Medary and ornately crafted by noted stone sculptor Lee Lawrie, The Singing Tower features a 60-bell Carillon housed in the bell tower. The tower is home to a 60 bell carillon, with bells ranging in weight from 16 pounds to nearly 12 tons. Daily bell concerts can be heard through the beautiful gardens in the afternoon.
Bok Tower Gardens was dedicated by President Woodrow Willson in 1921 with Bok gaining praise by another noted president, Theodore Roosevelt.
Charles Austin Buck, a vice-president of Bethlehem Steel, hired Olmsted’s firm to design the landscape of his winter retreat in the neighboring Mountain Lake Estates. In 1929, landscape architect William Lyman Phillips of the Olmsted Brothers firm began to design the gardens and the placement of the house. In 1930, architect Charles Wait was hired to design a 20-room Mediterranean-style home, equipped with modern day plumbing and electrical fixtures.
To enjoy all that Bok Garden Towers has to offer, plan on arriving early in the morning and pack a blanket and a picnic lunch on the grounds surrounded by the beautiful gardens or nearby the Bok Carillon Bell Tower.
We dined at the Blue Palmetto Cafe located next to the Visitor's Center-- excellent lunch fare and unique assortment of beverages, all reasonably priced. Indoor and outdoor dining with a music ensemble to entertain.