On rolling hills south of Orlando not far from Lake Wales and amid abundant orange groves—perhaps, the last place you’d expect—stands a majestic “singing tower” surrounded by lush botanical gardens, the handiwork of famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.
This is Bok Tower Gardens—yet another Florida gem that is off the beaten path but more than well worth a visit. It was envisioned and founded by editor, author, and philanthropist Edward W. Bok (1863-1930), who emigrated from Holland to the US as a child and wanted to leave behind a place of beauty for Americans to enjoy as a way of thanking them for his success.
Less than a year after the official opening to the public in 1929, Bok died of a heart attack within view of his beloved singing tower. He was buried at its base.
Since then over 23 million people have visited this place. Even today, it remains an oasis of calm in an oft-times troubled world. I’ve been here several times, always in the “off season” when the number of visitors declines to a trickle. I finally got my husband here last year, and he immediately understood why I was so keen for him to experience this place.
Wandering up the hillside toward the tower to the sound of chirping birds, we passed underneath massive old oaks laden with ferns and dripping with Spanish moss. When we finally reached the top and arrived at the end of the reflection pool, the view of the tower was mesmerizing. Once we explored the areas around the base of the tower, we strolled to the edges of the gardens for a view of the surrounding lands; we were, after all, standing on one of Florida’s highest elevations—some 295 feet (LOL).
In short: Go visit if you are ever in this part of Florida. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. The 60-ton carillon still plays daily. Also on the grounds is Pinewood Estate—a Mediterranean-style mansion built in the 1930s for a steel magnate. And, there’s a wonderful museum and gift shop. If you have a botanical garden or museum membership elsewhere, check to see if you can take advantage of reciprocal agreements. You may be able to get into Bok Tower Gardens for free or at reduced cost.
That’s today’s “Florida Friday.” Thank you, Edward Bok, for leaving us all such a wonderful legacy.
P.S. Below are an article on the official 1929 opening with President Calvin Coolidge presiding (the original name was “Mountain Lake Sanctuary and Singing Tower) and a January 1930 obituary.