Edward W. Bok, a Dutch immigrant, and his wife Mary Louise Curtis Bok, decided to create a bird sanctuary following a winter stay near Florida’s Lake Wales Ridge. Upon deciding on the location, Bok hired Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., a famous landscape architect, to bring his vision to life. The work started in 1921 and ending in 1926. The result is a luscious bird sanctuary.
Bok Tower Gardens was Edward Bok’s gift to the American people. The property encompasses Iron Mountain, one of the highest points in Florida. The carillon tower was built atop the 295-foot high hill. Within the tower is one of the world’s finest carillons, a bell-based instrument, and the heaviest of all musical instruments. The site also houses the world’s largest carillon library, with books, articles, recordings, music scores, slides, and photographs only on carillons.
The 205-foot neo-Gothic and Art Deco singing tower was designed by the architect Milton B. Medary, with stone sculpture by Lee Lawrie, the creator of Atlas at Rockefeller Center.
A brass door, which depicts the Book of Genesis and wrought iron gates were created by metalworker Samuel Yellin, whose works also grace both the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. There’s an extra fee to enter the door. The upper third of the tower is covered in tiles created by H. Dulles Allen.
The gardens were designed by the noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, one of the designers of New York City’s Central Park and the architect for the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. There is also the Children’s Garden where children can play. It includes a sandpit, a water park, and other interactive activities. Dogs are allowed for a small fee.
The Bok gardens 60-bell carillon is played every day at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. (There is a recording of the carillon here.)
Know Before You Go
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 U.S. Highway 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 Bok Tower Gardens. Turn left and proceed to the entrance gate.