2015 Trip 1, Feb. 20, Florida in Winter

Orlando, Friday Feb. 20

Orlando is more than Disney and Universal but it can be tough for alternate attractions to generate attention among the buzz for the theme parks. Today we traveled to Lake Wales, FL, a town of 12,000 people about an hour south of Orlando. The town sits on a high ridge that provides a view of the surrounding area, including citrus groves. It was because of this ridge that the Bok Tower Gardens was created in 1929.

Bok Gardens, Lake Wales FL

Bok Gardens, Lake Wales FL

Another rich Northerner developed the gardens and the 205 foot tall neo-Gothic and Art Deco Tower carillon, Edward W.Bok, born in the Netherlands and raised in New York. He advanced himself and became the editor of the Ladies Home Journal at age 26. The Ladies Home Journal became one of the most influential magazines of its era and he cemented his position by marrying the only daughter of the Curtis family that owned it. He was the editor for 30 years, from 1889 to 1919. His wife founded the Curtis School of Music in Philadelphia, which provides to this day tuition free education to all of its students.

As is often the case when visiting these places, the founder is a “noted philanthropist”. In this case, Chris and I wondered how the Bok money was created and controlled. The Bok Tower Garden is all about Edward Bok. Did his job provide that much money? How much came from his wife? Was it joint control or did he manage all of the family income? Those details were not provided to us; leaving us only to speculate. The opening of the Gardens and Carillon in 1929 was a big deal; President Calvin Coolidge came and spoke.

Bok seems to have had a positive impact in many areas; his motto was to “make you the world a bit better or more beautiful because you have lived in it”. A one example, he made a major impact in the building of small bungalows, providing building plans at low cost. He believed the suburbs were the best place to raise his concept of the well-balanced life with the wife as homemaker and child-rearer and children raised in a healthy, natural setting (Wikipedia). Easy enough said for a guy with lots of money who wintered in Florida and built a garden and carillon tower for the pleasure of it.

Bok Tower Gardens

Bok Tower Gardens

So enough editorial comments. The gardens consist of about 50 acres; the organization controls several hundred other acres around it. Frederick Law Olmstead Jr was the designer. This location was chosen because it is the highest point in central Florida. Olmstead transformed the arid hill into a magnificent garden, with trees and flowers imported after an irrigation system was installed.

"The Singing Tower", carillon at Bok Tower Gardens

“The Singing Tower”, carillon at Bok Tower Gardens

The 205 foot carillon, dubbed the Singing Tower, adds a central focus point with composition of marble and coquina. It has grace and beauty, with intricate ironwork and ceramic tiles and sculptures near the top of the tower. There is a full-time carilloneur who performs two 30 minute concerts six days per week.

detail from top of Carillon

detail from top of Carillon

We arrived at the site in time to have an early lunch, then join a 60 minute guided tour that ended at the carillon for the 1 PM carillon performance. Both the camellia and azaleas were in much better bloom than at Leu Gardens earlier in the week. We continued walking the grounds, including the nature trail that went on a lot further than we expected. The gardens are undergoing a $12,000,000 restoration and expansion that did not diminish our experience.

With travel time, we spent most of the day here and found it a very worthwhile experience. On our way down, we stopped at Davidson of Dundee, a local, family owned candy company. The family grew citrus fruit and later expanded into candy, particularly citrus candy. We bought some candy, citrus and chocolate. Unfortunately, to our taste buds, the idea was more tasty than the reality.

Dinner was at a local restaurant with cousins of ours from Minnesota who also happened to be in Orlando at this time.

Ed and Chris Feb. 20 10:45 pm

Categories: road trip, travel | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “2015 Trip 1, Feb. 20, Florida in Winter

  1. Mary Stusek

    Very interesting, Ed, as always. My mom subscribed to The Ladies Home Journal (and McCalls) forever. I like the behind the scenes you gave us,

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