Bok Tower Gardens, a “must see Florida attraction” centrally located between Tampa and Orlando, 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. General admission tickets are good for one day only and do not include specially ticketed events. You can also become a member of Bok Tower Gardens and enjoy the beauty of the Gardens 365 days a year.
In 1921, Edward W. Bok was spending the winter months in the residential mountain lake community located adjacent to one of the highest hills of Florida’s Lake Wales Ridge, 298 feet above sea level. He enjoyed taking evening walks to the top of “Iron Mountain,” among the virgin pines and sandhill scrub, to enjoy Florida’s dramatic sunsets and bird life. The idea came to him to preserve this hilltop and create a bird sanctuary – a place of beauty, serenity and peace.
Integral to Bok’s idea was the availability of a famous landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. Having made arrangements to buy land on the hilltop, Bok commissioned Olmsted to change this arid sandhill into “a spot of beauty second to none in the country.” The first year was spent digging trenches and laying water pipes for irrigation, after which rich black soil was brought by the thousands of loads.
With the requisite conditions for a subtropical garden in place, planting of bushes and trees was begun that would provide food for visiting birds. Today, these plantings provide shade to visitors as well as refuge for squirrels and more than 100 bird species.
Created to entice wildlife to take residence, the Reflection Pool gives visitors one of the most memorable experiences in the Gardens. Its location captures the reflection of the Singing Tower and offers the first image visitors have when entering the gardens.
The Singing Tower
In all the natural beauty of the Gardens, Bok believed something was missing. Remembering the glorious sound of carillons in his native Netherlands, he decided to build a beautiful Singing Tower as the focal point of the Gardens which would be crowned by a large carillon.
Bok commissioned fellow Philadelphian, architect Milton B. Medary, to design and build the majestic Singing Tower. Medary drew his main inspiration from the Gothic towers and churches of Europe, but wanted to adapt his design to the characteristics of the Florida landscape.
Lee Lawrie, a noted sculptor from New York, was engaged to design the elaborate marble sculpture that adorns the Tower. Although Medary’s overall design is neo-Gothic in its conception, he, like Lawrie, was a man of the times. Thus, Lawrie incorporated art deco influences into the sculptural decoration of the Tower.
Construction of the Tower began in 1927 and was completed in time for the dedication on February 1, 1929.