Posts Tagged With: Florida travel

A Florida Friday: Bok Tower Gardens

Edward W. Bok’s beloved Singing Tower; his grave is at its base.

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.

First glimpse of the tower after you come up the hill from the entrance

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.

The base of the tower

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.

Garden scenes

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.

The view from the hilltop on a steamy summer day with limited visibility 😦

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.

February 2, 1929 – Jamestown Evening Journal (Credit: FultonHistory.com)

January 10, 1930 – The Schenectady Gazette (Credit: FultonHistory.com)

Categories: Bok Edward W, Coolidge Calvin, Florida, Lake Wales, Olmsted Jr Frederick W | Tags: , | Leave a comment

A Florida Friday: Solomon’s Castle

The entrance gates at Solomon’s Castle

Solomon’s Castle is on my must-see list of Florida’s quirkiest places.  Like many others on that list, it’s off the beaten path and getting there requires a bit of effort.  We were staying in Sarasota a couple of years back when the brochure caught our eye. Shall we go? Why not? Early the next morning we headed east and eventually found ourselves in Florida’s rural heartland in search of the “town” of Ona. It was a hot sunny day during the off-season. Few travelers on the road. GPS was patchy at times; we worried a bit about getting lost, but fortunately, we found our way there.

Hardee County, in which Ona and the “castle” are located, probably hasn’t changed much in the last century. Its 1930 population of 10,000 has almost tripled; but that’s nothing compared to Lee County , which is where we live. Here the population has gone from roughly 15,000 to 620,000 during that same time span. Few contrasts could better reflect the great divide between the pace of life in Gulf coast towns and cities and inland areas such as this.

Solomon’s Castle was the brainchild of Howard Solomon, who died in 2016 of heart troubles. He was 81. Howard spent many decades commuting from his 55-acre property to his St. Petersburg cabinet-making and boat-building business to earn the money that fueled his creative passions. Why base himself in a place like Ona? The land was cheap, and there was plenty of it.

Photography is not permitted within the “castle,” but YouTube has footage of tours Howard used to give to visitors (see link below).  You’ll quickly see why the folks behind the Weird US publication called him the “Da Vinci of Debris”.  For a great article on Howard, click here.

Resources:
YouTube video – 1 of 4 – Start here.
Google Images
Haven Magazine article: “Solomon’s Castle: A Visionary’s Legacy”

From here on down, I’ll let the pictures do the talking. Have a great weekend, everyone.

The approach to the Castle whose walls are covered with aluminum printing plates from a newspaper business 

You can gaze at the turrets, towers, and stained glass windows as you await your turn for a guided tour. I kept expecting to see King Friday even though Mr. Rogers’ castle looks much different.

Pitchfork and quirky garden decor in the foreground

Fun idea for flower bed or small vegetable garden

Lots of massive staghorn ferns hang from the trees here

Yes, there’s a boat with a moat—complete with the occasional alligator. Howard built it all. Climb aboard, for here and beyond are the restaurant and gift shop.

Veranda seating overlooking the restaurant boat — it was still quite early so no diners yet.

More seating and a gift shop on the left. Note the fabulous live oak festooned with moss and ferns—a signature element in much of old Florida

Categories: Florida, Miscellaneous, Ona | Tags: | 7 Comments

A Florida Friday: “Gatorama”

Gatorama is a long-time Florida attraction located off the most beaten paths in South Florida, but it’s well worth a visit and the price of admission. Hundreds of alligators and crocodiles of all shapes and sizes are on display, as are some other Florida creatures. We were there in July, and since then, the local ABC7 station has done a story on the gator and croc training that goes on there. It’s surprising and fascinating and well worth the view. Enjoy, and have a great weekend!


Categories: Alligators crocodiles, Florida, Miscellaneous, Nature, Palmdale | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

A Florida Friday: The Murals of Lake Placid

Murals are popping up all over these days, and in most cases, I would say they are a welcome addition. The town of Lake Placid (FL)—population roughly 2,200—is no exception, and here, this south-central Florida community seems to be taking things to a whole new level, with 47 murals so far. We traveled through there not too long ago, during the “off season,” so few people were around. In the snowbird months, the place would be bustling with all sorts of activity; there’s even an outdoor movie area downtown (see murals with white space in center). And, by the way, Lake Placid is also known as the “Caladium Capital of the World”—my sister has been to their Annual Caladium Festival several times and always brings back all sorts of fantastic bulbs that, after planting, emerge in pink, green, and white swathes to liven up the slow summer months. I hope you will enjoy these scenes; perhaps they will encourage you to stop by this historic little Florida town when you are next in this part of the world.

Categories: Florida, Lake Placid | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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