February 12, 2013 – BOK Tower, Lake Wales, Florida

After hearing about Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, Florida we’ve twice had plans to make the trip, both last year on the way home and again this year enroute to Bradenton but bypassed it both times.  So, today, we decided on making the six hour round trip from Naples … and were not at all disappointed!


Bok Tower Gardens (also known as Bok Mountain Lake Sanctuary and Singing Tower) is a botanical garden and bird sanctuary.  It consists of a 250-acre meandering, historic landscape garden designed to be a contemplative and informal woodland setting offering a series of romantic recesses and tranquil resting spots, picturesque vistas and breathtaking views of the Singing Tower.


Winding paths


and wide lawns


acres of ferns, palms, oaks and pines fashion a lush backdrop for flowering foliage and the spectacular seasonal color of azaleas, camellias and magnolias showcasing an ever-changing work of art.

One of the wonderful attributes of the Gardens and natural habitats is its wildlife population. It includes 126 different species of birds as well as the threatened gopher tortoise and endangered eastern indigo snake.

The 8 acre Pinewood Estate, which features a twenty-room Mediterranean Revival mansion has also been incorporated into the Bok Gardens property.  This mansion was built between 1930-1932 by Charles Austin Buck, vice-president of Bethlehem Steel Co. in Pennsylvania, as a winter residence. Its original name was “El Retiro”, and it has been restored to its 1930s appearance.

Pinewood is also surrounded by its own gardens, ponds and water features and a great lawn leading


from which the Singing Tower was originally visible and can still can be glimpsed through breaks in the live oaks and trees which have grown over the 80 years.


However, it is the 205-foot neo-Gothic and art deco Singing Tower with its Carillon bells located at the summit of Iron Mountain (295’ above sea level … and the highest point on Florida’s peninsula) which is the center piece of the Gardens.


The steel–frame structure has brick walls with an outer facing of pink and gray Georgia marble and Florida coquina (a limestone comprised of shells and coral fragments).

The gardens began in 1921 when a Dutch immigrant, Edward W. Bok

editor of the popular women’s magazine Ladies Home Journal and his wife, Mary Louis Curtis Bok, who would found the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia in 1924, were spending the winter beside Florida’s Lake Wales Ridge and decided to create a bird sanctuary on its highest hill.

Bok commissioned noted Landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmsted, Jr.to transform what then was an arid sand hill into “a spot of beauty second to none in the country”. The first year was spent digging trenches and laying pipes for irrigation, after which soil was brought to the site by thousands of truck loads and plantings began. The Olmsted plan included the planting of 1,000 large live oaks, 10,000 azaleas, 100 sabal palms, 300 magnolias, and 500  gordonias, as well as hundreds of fruit shrubs including blueberry and holly.

Under construction for over five years, Bok Tower Gardens was dedicated by President Calvin Coolidegeon February 1, 1929. Edward Bok died on January 9, 1930 and was interred in the flower-bordered area at the base of the tower just in from of the large brass door.


Adam and Eve

Beneath the Tree of Life

Two of Eight Marble Herons

Vertical Sundial

Aside from the beauty of the imposing tower, its allure is its Carillon; a musical instrument consisting of at least 23 cast bronze bells that are precisely tuned and arranged in chromatic progression so that music in any key can be played. Unlike other types of bells, carillon bells are fixed in a frame—the bells do not move. Instead, the clappers inside strike the bells to produce a considerable range of sounds up to five or six octaves.  Because of its weight and size, the carillon is one of the largest of all instruments. A carillon is played from a keyboard

on which the keys are depressed by the player’s closed hands and feet. The keys are connected to the clappers by vertical and horizontal wires.

The carillon at Bok Tower Gardens has 60 bells ranging in weight from 16 pounds to nearly 12 tons.


Comparison of the size of the Carillon’s largest bell

This was a day well spent despite the length of the drive!

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