Bok Tower Sanctuary - October 1949

One of my favorite eras in the history of Florida tourism is the period between WWII and the arrival of the interstates. The nation was entering an unparalleled era of growth, opportunity and optimism. Visitors holding off on those expensive trips to exotic places (yes, Florida) were now road-tripping with dollars and looking for something to do.

Garden-based attractions were at their strongest in this period — Cypress Gardens, Sunken Gardens, Eagles Nest Gardens, Oriental Gardens, Killearn Gardens, Ravine Gardens, Sarasota Jungle Gardens, Hialeah Tropical Park, Everglades Reptile Gardens, Monkey Jungle, Parrot Jungle, Busch Gardens — the list goes on (including all the Springs and their pastoral settings).

Known geologically as the Florida Ridge, the orange sand hills around Lake Wales and Winter Haven provide an excellent environment for orange groves. This part of the state up and down US 27 was one blanket of groves in 1949.

The roads leading to the Mountain Lake Sanctuary and the “Singing Tower” were desolate and passed through acres of groves. We're almost there!

Mountain Lake Sanctuary was the vision of naturalist Edward Bok, a Netherlands native and editor of Ladies Home Journal. Dedicated by Calvin Coolidge in 1929, the carillon tower is made of Creole & Etowah marble from Georgia as well as Coquina rock from Florida. It contains 71 bells covering a range of 4-1/2 octaves. The largest bell weighs 23,000 lbs.

Although architecturally neo-gothic in conception, the Florida imagery (found throughout the building) is decidedly Art-Deco. Cypress trees festooned with moss, pelicans, herons, palms, eagles and doves are carved into stutues and panels that surround the structure.

This carved window grille depicts a youth watering plants.

This is a nice view showing the contrast of rock. One of the stone eagles can be seen perched on the balcony to the bottom-right of the right window.

The Florida relief is above the fireplace in the Tower Room. Only members are allowed inside. The interior is a whole other story.

The Erect Declining Dial or vertically mounted sundial. Surrounding it are reliefs of the zodiac signs and the dedication plaque by Calvin Coolidge.

A view of the lake and gardens next to the Tower. What makes this sanctuary extra special is the view west from its meadows located on top of Iron Mountain (or hill depending on where you're from).

Here's an idyllic view from the top of Iron Mountain — The highest point in peninsular Florida (324 ft.). It's a great spot to meditate and reflect. You can get dizzy from the thin air. Bok quotes Burroughs on the entrance sign: “I come here to find myself. It is so easy to get lost in the world.”

And if you're feeling lost, you can follow Bok Tower Gardens on Twitter. Check it out on Google satellite view.

ElectroSpark @ Twitter | Flicker


  1. Great post- where did you find these wonderful images?

  2. They're all original 35mm Kodachromes from two sources; ironically from the same year - 1949! (The Florida relief was in a brochure.) I collect old photos whenever & wherever - can't get enough.

  3. I have great footage of this attraction that my folks shot on 8 MM on their Honeymoon Trip in 1940..

  4. I've been inside and it is pretty wonderful.

  5. I've only seen the inside from photos & tv. Looks like real old-world craftsmanship. Don: Is your 8mm in color? If so, your parents spent a lot in 1940 $$.

  6. http://studiohourglass.blogspot.com/2008/12/to-top.html

  7. Bongoland:

    I'll try to post more Bok pictures on Flick'r.

  8. Thanks for a great article. We visited Bok Tower Gardens earlier this year. It's still beautiful, and a great place for admiring the flowers and the wildlife. I saw several species of birds I'd never seen before. The carillion is amazing and we stayed after the show to speak to the person who played it. Our visit was a highlight of our stay in Florida. We would love to go back again!


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