Florida Tourism: Bok Tower Gardens

Lake Wales

Bok Tower Gardens, a national historic landmark, celebrated its 85th anniversary on Feb. 1 and announced plans for a $12 million capital campaign to undertake a major expansion and rejuvenation of the core garden.

One of the campaign’s projects is to tell the story behind the beautiful sanctuary. It is a fascinating one about Edward Bok, a poor Dutch immigrant born in 1863, and his talents as a thought leader and entrepreneur in the 19th century. At the age of 16, Bok saved his money and embarked on a pilgrimage to Boston to meet some of the greatest writers of his time: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Phillips Brooks and Robert Louis Stevenson all opened their homes to him. This fed his love of learning about people and propelled him to a career in journalism. Forty-two years later (in 1921), he received the Pulitzer Prize for his autobiography, The Americanization of Edward Bok, and he also guided the Ladies Home Journal to 1 million subscribers, the first publication in the world to achieve that milestone.

Bok commissioned famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. and other master craftsmen to transform his nearly 50 acres, centrally located between Orlando and Tampa, to a feast for the senses. Dedicated by President Calvin Coolidge in 1929, today more than 25 million visitors have experienced the lush landscaped gardens, nature trails, unique Singing Tower and the majestic 1930s Mediterranean-style mansion found there. Music fills the gardens daily from the 60-bell carillon.

A man of words, Bok’s gift to us speaks for itself.