When you drive through Lake Wales, a sleep town in Central Florida that straddles US Highway 27, there is no indication that it holds a great secret. Lake Wales is a gateway of sorts to the barren and rural area of South-Central Florida that begins south of Lakeland and stretches all the way down to the northern banks of Lake Okeechobee. This area is one of the least understood and least traveled parts of the state. Nestled outside of Lake Wales is an attraction that is the epitome of Old Florida and a landmark to a time past – Bok Tower Gardens.
Bok Tower Gardens is a historic park centered around Edward Bok’s singing tower. The tower stands an impressive 205 feet tall and houses a 60-bell carillon that is still functional today. The tower rises majestically from the surrounding gardens and dominates one of the highest peaks in all of Florida. That makes the top of Bok Tower one of the highest points in the state.
The tower is otherworldly. It holds a beauty not seen in modern architecture. Today, things are built to save money. Buildings are designed around bland efficiency. How many times do you drive through your town and stop to recognize a beautiful piece of architecture? It feels like anything built after 2000 has lost all sense of purpose or soul.
Bok Tower upends that. Here is a building that was built for the sake of beauty. Being beautiful was its only purpose. Edward Bok built this, not to make money, not to drive efficiency, but to appreciate it. And it shows.
Bok Tower Gardens also features hundreds of acres of gardens, trails, and wild Florida to explore. The gardens feature some truly unique plants, and the whole place explodes with vibrant colors. It feels like you are in a tropical paradise. It feels natural. It feels wild. One portion of the park was created as an enclosed children's play area replete with climbing toys, musical instruments, learning stations, and more. Active children could spend hours in this part of the gardens alone.
My wife and I spent three hours exploring the park, and we could have spent longer. The biggest drawback was the heat. (We visited in the middle of this particularly long hot summer.) The heat made it hard to enjoy the outdoors as much as it demanded. Thankfully, there was plenty of shade if were you were willing to migrate around to find it. Many of the paths were overhanging by large mature shade trees.
The grounds also hold an old summer home that was owned by an executive of Bethlehem Steel. The house adds to the historic grandeur of the property and is worth the additional fee to tour. The house is also air-conditioned, which was a godsend for our trip.
All in all, this was one of the most beautiful and surprising attractions that I have ever visited in Florida. The beauty of the grounds was stunning. The tower was breathtaking. The history was rich and deep. This is definitely a place that deserves a visit. We might go back when the weather is cooler or to see if they do anything for the holidays. This place decked out in Christmas lights would be one of the all time best places in the world.
You can find Bok Tower Gardens at 1151 Tower Blvd, Lake Wales, FL 33853.
You can find more information on their website.