BOK TOWER GARDENS

By  Mike Miller   Updated September 13, 2022

Bok Tower Gardens is a serene sanctuary not far from the hectic pace and noise of typical Central Florida tourist attractions.

This place of tranquil beauty is a National Historic Landmark only one hour south of Orlando.

Bok Tower Gardens Aerial ViewBok Tower Gardens
Flickr/VisitCentralFL

It is on many discerning people's list of favorite Florida tourist attractions.

HISTORY OF BOK TOWER GARDENS

Edward Bok was a Dutch immigrant who became a Pulitzer Prize winning author and an editor.

He became famous in the United States as the editor of Ladies Home Journal, a major magazine in its time.

Aerial View Toward Mountain Lake from Bok TowerAerial View Toward Mountain Lake from Bok Tower
Courtesy Shelley Rowan

Bok and his wife spent winters at the Mountain Lake community near Lake Wales, Florida.

He loved to take walks to the top of nearby Iron Mountain, the highest point in the Lake Wales Ridge region of Florida at 295 feet above sea level.

Edward BokEdward Bok

He enjoyed the views of the surrounding hills of citrus groves and forests from this beautiful place.

Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr.  Designed Bok Tower Gardens

He decided to buy this highest hill and its surrounding acreage, and hired famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead Jr. to design a garden.

He told Olmstead to make the barren sandhill into "a spot of beauty second to none in the country".

When you visit Bok Tower Gardens you will see that Mr. Olmstead delivered.

Bok Tower Under ConstructionBok Tower Under Construction

Almost as an afterthought, Bok decided to have a magnificent "singing tower" added to the gardens.

It would have a carillon in it, and would be designed to fit well with the gardens.

Bells Arriving at Bok TowerBells Arriving at Bok Tower

The Bok Tower and Gardens were created by Mr. Bok to give thanks to America and the American people for the opportunities he was given.

Bok Tower Gardens was dedicated on February 1, 1929, by President Calvin Coolidge. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a National Landmark.

The Early Days of Bok TowerBok Tower Parking Lot In The Early Days
State Archives of Florida

Edward William Bok died in Lake Wales within sight of the Tower on January 9, 1930 at the age of 66 and is now buried at the base of the tower.

Vintage Postcard of Bok Tower GardensVintage Postcard of Bok Tower Gardens

BOK TOWER GARDENS TODAY

Mr. Olmstead succeeded in achieving Mr. Bok's goals.

Today the tropical plantings provide cooling shade to visitors and is a bird sanctuary for more than 126 species.

Bok Tower Gardens is a designated site on the Great Florida Birding Trail.

Path at Bok Tower GardensPath at Bok Tower Gardens

The entire acreage of Bok Tower Gardens is full of azaleas, camillias, magnolias and more that change colors with the seasons.

The gardens also provide shelter and habitat for many endangered species, including the gopher tortoise.

The gardens are divided into several different areas.

The Wild Garden is a wonderful woodland setting that includes miles of meandering walking paths and many restful places to just sit and relax.

View From Bok TowerView From Bok Tower
Courtesy Shelley Rowan

Hammock Hollow Children's Garden contains a boardwalk, water features, and play areas for kids to climb on.

Bok Tower Gardens Nature Trail is a 1.5 mile preserve trail that passes through a longleaf pine forest and areas that were former citrus groves.

Pine Ridge Nature Trail is a 3/4 mile walking trail that begins near Window by the Pond and ends at the Visitor Center and parking area.

The Bok Tower is built of Florida coquina stone and Georgia pink marble.  It contains a 60-bell carillon, one of the finest in the world.

Bok Tower Carillon BellsBok Tower Carillon Bells
Courtesy Shelley Rowan

Mr. Bok's 205 foot tall singing tower is a lasting tribute to an exceptional man.

Bok Tower Gardens: National Register of Historic Places

The architecture of the tower with its carvings and mosaics is worth the visit alone and would make this one of the most popular Florida tourist attractions even without the gardens.

Bok Tower MosaicBok Tower Mosaic
Courtesy Shelley Rowan

Bok Tower features carillon concerts at 1 and 3 p.m. daily, and brief musical selections throughout the day.

Bok Tower DoorBok Tower Door
Courtesy Shelley Rowan

Bok Tower Gardens has become a popular site for weddings and special events, in addition to being a major Florida tourist attraction.

Interior Bok Tower, Lake Wales, FloridaInterior Bok Tower, Lake Wales, Florida
Courtesy Jane Edwards

The best way to enjoy all this wonderful place has to offer is to first stop at the Visitor Center. Volunteers will answer any question and give you a guide book and map to help you find your way around.

Interior Bok Tower, Lake Wales, FloridaInterior Bok Tower, Lake Wales, Florida
Courtesy Jane Edwards

You can also view a 15 minute orientation film that rolls on all day long. The center also has an exhibition hall that tells you all about Mr. Bok and features the original carillon keyboard.

Interior Bok Tower, Lake Wales, FloridaInterior Bok Tower, Lake Wales, Florida
Courtesy Jane Edwards

When you get hungry, you can visit the Blue Palmetto Cafe for soups, salads, and sandwiches.

Interior Bok Tower, Lake Wales, FloridaInterior Bok Tower, Lake Wales, Florida
Courtesy Jane Edwards

The visitor complex also includes a garden gift shop loaded with great souvenirs and plants for sale.

Another unusual feature at Bok Tower Gardens is a 20-room Mediterranean-Style mansion named El Retiro. It was built in the 1930s for Charles Austin Buck, a steel company executive.

Interior Bok Tower, Lake Wales, FloridaInterior Bok Tower, Lake Wales, Florida
Courtesy Jane Edwards

The mansion is also on the National Register of Historic Places and can be toured for an additional fee.

Bok Tower DoorBok Tower Door
Courtesy Shelley Rowan

This sanctuary is an ideal place to go every now and then to renew oneself. Not many Florida tourist attractions can make that claim.

Give quiet thanks to Edward W. Bok when you go.

The Beautiful Interior of Bok Tower

Most people, myself included, have never seen the interior of Bok Tower.  Thanks to reader Jane Edwards, for sharing this story and photos.

The first Bok Tower carilloner, who was recommended to Bok by Rockefeller, was my uncle Anton Brees who at the time was playing at the Antwerp cathedral.

Uncle Anton married my aunt and they had 7 sons and one daughter. Their daughter died recently, leaving two surviving brothers.

The family was allowed inside the tower, which most of us had done when Uncle Anton died in 1967, and a recording of him playing his favorite song was that day’s recital.

I thought you might enjoy seeing photos of the exquisite interior.


Interior Bok Tower, Lake Wales, FloridaInterior Bok Tower, Lake Wales, Florida
Courtesy Jane Edwards

Admission Fees for Bok Tower and Other Florida Tourist Attractions

Group rates are available with pre-registration of 20 or more.

Saturday admission rate: On 8-9 a.m. on Saturdays, the admission rate is now 50 percent of general admission.

General admission tickets are good for one day only and do not include specially ticketed events.

HOURS

Bok Tower Gardens is open every day of the year from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. with last admission at 5 p.m.

The Visitor Center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.


BOK TOWER GARDENS SPECIAL TOURS


Directions to Bok Tower Gardens

1151 Tower Blvd.
Lake Wales, Florida 33853
863-676-1408

From Orlando, take I-4 West.

From Tampa, Take I-4 East.

Proceed on I-4 to Exit 55. Take Exit 55 and proceed south on US-27 for approximately 23 miles. Proceed two traffic lights past Eagle Ridge Mall. Turn left on Mountain Lake Cut Off Road. At the caution light, turn right (south) onto County Road 17 also known as Scenic Highway). Proceed on CR 17 for 3/4 miles. Turn left (east) onto Burns Avenue (also known as County Road 17-A). Proceed on Burns Avenue for 1.3 miles. On your left you’ll see a main entrance sign to Historic Bok Sanctuary. Turn left and proceed to the entrance gate.

From Highway 60 East or West:

Go to Lake Wales and proceed north on U.S. Highway 27. Turn right on Mountain Lake Cutoff Road. At the caution light, turn right (south) onto County Road 17 (also known as Scenic Highway). Proceed on CR 17 for 3/4 miles. Turn left (east) onto Burns Avenue (also known as County Road 17-A). Proceed on Burns Avenue for 1.3 miles. On your left you’ll see a main entrance sign to Bok Tower Gardens. Turn left and proceed to the entrance gate.

From Vero Beach, Take Highway 60 West:

Go to Lake Wales. At Buck Moore Road (the intersection just past WalMart), turn North (right) onto Buck Moore Road (also known as 17-B). Turn between SunTrust and Walgreen’s. Proceed aproximately 1.3 miles. At the stop light, turn West (left) onto County Road 17-A (also called Burns Ave.). Proceed on CR 17-A approximately .7 mile to the entrance of Historic Bok Sanctuary on your right.



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