By Mike Miller Updated December 21, 2022
Lake Wales is a town of about 17,305 people in Polk County, Florida.
The town lies next to the intersection of US-27 and SR-60, two of Florida's major highways in the days before interstates.
It is located west of Lake Kissimmee and east of Tampa.
Downtown Lake Wales is on Scenic Highway State Road 17.
This scenic highway takes you north to Haines City through hundreds of thousands of acres of citrus groves.
Lake Wales was in the center of these groves and a major location of packing and shipping businesses.
If you take it south you will go through even more groves on your way to Babson Park, Frostproof, Avon Park, and Sebring.
The land that now includes Lake Wales was surveyed by Sidney Irving Wailes in 1879. He changed the name of a nearby lake, Watts Lake, to Lake Wailes.
The town of Lake Wales was established next to this lake in 1911-12 by the Lake Wales Land Company.
The spelling Wales was used for the city, although the lake is still generally spelled Lake Wailes....if you can remember to do it.
In 1925 the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad built a new line from Haines City through Lake Wales on the way to Everglades City way down south near Naples.
A depot was opened in the downtown area.
One of the major juice companies in the early days was Donald Duck Citrus.
It was a large employer, and its plant on US-27 in Lake Wales featured a prominent picture of the smart aleck duck himself.
I heard a local story that said Disney executives contacted the company in the 1960's and accused them of using the Disney character's name without the proper licenses.
The owners of Donald Duck Citrus immediately produced an old yellowed document that proved Walt and Roy Disney had given them the rights to the name almost forty years before Disney even thought of moving into Central Florida.
Lake Wales is still a fascinating city, with the old 1920s vintage hotel still dominating the downtown skyline and currently being renovated by way of a lengthy process.
Downtown Lake Wales has been gentrified and is a fun place to shop and dine.
At one time Lake Wales was best known for the Mountain Lake Club, a private community founded in 1915, with a top-ranked golf course designed in 1916 by Seth Raynor.
Mountain Lake has a fascinating history and is part of Florida lore not always found in the history books. It is still a very exclusive place to live.
The community was founded in 1915 by Frederick S. Ruth of Baltimore. He bought 3,500 acres in the hilly, fertile land, which is among the highest in the state of Florida.
Ruth hired Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. to lay out 600 acres of the property for the residences and brought in Seth Raynor to design the golf course.
Olmsted's father had designed Central Park in New York and Biltmore Estates in Asheville.
Mountain Lake has only 125 residences, few of them within sight of the golf course, so the gently rolling land is open and space is abundant within the very private grounds.
Famous residents have included Edward Bok, publisher of The Saturday Evening Post, The Ladies Home Journal, and the creator of nearby Bok Tower Gardens.
The Mountain Lake Historic District is on the National Register of Historic Places.
In the mid 1920s Edward W. Bok, the publisher of The Saturday Evening Post and The Ladies Home Journal, owned a home at Mountain Lake.
He had come to America from Holland and became very successful in his career.
He wanted to give something back to his new country, so he acquired over 100 acres of the highest land in the Lake Wales area and created what is now known as Historic Bok Sanctuary.
The "Singing Tower" is one of the world's most renowned carillons, and outdoor concerts and other events are scheduled on a regular basis.
Bok Sanctuary also hosts an international festival of carillonneurs each year.
Spook Hill has been attracting visitors for several generations. It's a free attraction that you can enjoy from the comfort of your car. You park your car in neutral and watch your car go uphill rather than down. Learn more about Spook Hill.
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By Mike Miller, Copyright 2009-2023
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