Bok Tower & Gardens
Mar 23, 2014
|We visited Bok Towers and gardens, a must see when in central Florida, it is located near Lake Wales.
The gardens began in 1921 when a Dutch immigrant, Edward W. Bok, a Pulitzer Prize winner, editor of the popular women's magazine Ladies Home Journal and his wife, Mary Louise 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 (298 feet above sea level).
Bok commissioned noted landscape architect Frederick 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.
Attempts were made to introduce flamingos to the sanctuary several times, which is why early renderings of the tower show flamingos at the reflection pool rather than swans. These early efforts were unsuccessful, however, as the flamingos were not native to central Florida and could not survive the winters that were cooler than those of southern Florida where they may be found.
Under construction for over five years, Bok Tower Gardens was dedicated by President Calvin Coolidge on February 1, 1929. Edward Bok died on January 9, 1930 and was interred at the base of the tower.
Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. designed the meandering gardens of Bok Tower Gardens to feature acres of ferns, palms, oaks, pines, and wetland plants. The plantings also include camellias, tree ferns, creeping fig, yaupon and dahoon holly, Asiatic jasmine, justicia, crinum and spider lily, monstera, wax myrtle, date and sabal palm, papyrus, philodendron, blue plumbago, and horsetail rush (Juncaceae). The site is a refuge for more than a hundred bird species. Wild turkey and groups of sandhill cranes are also often seen wandering the grounds.
The ornate brass door leading into Bok Tower and details of its stonework The Singing Tower is the centerpiece of the gardens. The tower was built at the highest elevation of the site, south of a reflection pool that allows the water to reflect its full image. Bok is buried in front of the brass door and his grave is outlined in beautiful flowers. A 60-bell carillon set within the 205-foot tall, Gothic Revival and Art Deco tower that was designed by architect Milton B. Medary. Construction on the tower began in 1927 and was completed for the dedication of the gardens in 1929, when it was dedicated by President Calvin Coolidge. The tower is 51 feet square at its base, changing form at 150 feet high to an octagon with 37 feet sides that include sculptures designed by Lee Lawrie. The tower is surrounded by a 15-foot moat that serves as a Koi pond. It is built of pink Etowah marble and gray Creole marble, mined in Tate, Georgia, and Florida native coquina stone, from Daytona Beach, Florida.
Although the tower's interior is not open to the public, it contains the Anton Brees Carillon Library, said to be the largest carillon library in the world. It also is home to the Chao Research Center Archives which keeps various institutional records related to Bok Tower. Every year,however, graduating seniors from Lake Wales High School, a local high school located down the street from the tower, have the very rare opportunity to see the inside of the tower. 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.