Bok Tower Gardens, Lake Wales

You can see Bok Tower, just north of Lake Wales, from over five miles away, partly because it is two hundred and five feet tall, but also because it sits on top of Iron Mountain—a ridge that marks one of the highest elevations in peninsular (lower two-thirds) Florida. Various claims range from 298 to 324 feet above sea level. Regardless of the exact measurement, this is Florida’s K2, if not quite its Everest. (The highest elevation in Florida is 345 feet, at Britton Hill in Lakewood Park in the north-central Panhandle.) Certainly the long-range panoramic views from here are dramatic. The lush gardens and the Gothic marble and coquina stone tower were the creation of magazine editor, author, and philanthropist Edward Bok, who immigrated to the United States from Holland with his family in 1869, at age six. (click “HD” below for best video quality)

Bok grew up in New York, and found work there in the publishing business. In 1889, he became editor of Ladies Home Journal. His autobiography, The Americanization of Edward Bok, (one of ten books that he authored) won a Pulitzer Prize in 1920. After retiring from Ladies Home Journal, he devoted his time to various worthy causes, including establishing the American Peace Award.

Probably his grandest achievement, though, was the creation of Bok Tower and its surrounding gardens. He purchased his initial fourteen acres atop Iron Mountain—then just a sand-and-scrub-oak ridge, in 1922, and hired famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr. to design a park and bird sanctuary there. The tower was actually an afterthought. Olmstead’s garden design was spectacular but Bok felt that it still needed a centerpiece. He decided on a carillon tower, and commissioned architect Milton B. Medary to design one, with the 400-year-old carillon tower in Mechlin, Belgium as his inspiration. Bok described the Gardens as his gift to the American people, in gratitude for the opportunity that they had afforded him, “…a spot which would reach out in its beauty through the architecture of the tower, through the music of the carillon, to the people, and fill their souls with the quiet, the repose, the influence of the beautiful, as they could see it and enjoy it in these gardens and through this tower.” Edward Bok died in 1930, just one year after the tower’s dedication.

Bruce Hunt

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