Bok Tower Gardens



Historical Background: 


     The Bok Tower Gardens are located in Lake Wales, Florida. The idea for a garden began in the early 1920's, when Edward W. Bok discovered this beautiful land in central Florida while visiting their winter home. His initial intention for this land was to be a bird sanctuary, for Bok witnessed countless birds thriving off the subtropical plants in the area. With the efforts of several designers and architects, the gardens became home to not only luscious, beautiful botanical gardens, but to a historic landmark, all while being a very popular tourist destination. The 250 acre land has since been home to hundreds of native, endangered and subtropical plants, in addition to migrating wildlife. The gardens also feature a singing tower, which has a carillon at the top. The Bok Tower was designed and built by some of the best and most well-known artists of the early 1900's and is a National Historic Landmark that continues to attract locals and visitors throughout each year because of the staff's education of nature and conservation.

     The gardens were officially dedicated on February 1, 1929 by Calvin Coolidge, who was President of the United States at the time. The primary mission of this establishment was to maintain an environment that will continuously contribute to conservation efforts, so that Edward Bok's legacy can continue to inspire the world. The gardens remain a symbol of unity between Earth's nature and humanity. 

 "Make the world a bit better or more beautiful because you have lived in it." -Edward W. Bok




Creating the Gardens:


Edward W. Bok  (October 9, 1963 - January 9, 1930) encountered the land in which the gardens sit while escaping a cold Pennsylvania winter with his wife. Upon witnessing the beautiful landscape and what it had to offer, he decided that it would be an excellent location to utilize Florida's subtropical soil and humid weather to his advantage. He began to plant and nurture native plants, which drew the attention of local birds and other creatures. Over time, migrating birds became interested in the plants as well. Eventually, the site became a safe place for endangered plants, and ultimately a sanctuary for future generations to fully appreciate and nurture their land. When deciding that the gardens should be built, Bok personally selected and invited famous architects and artists to collaborate with his project. Bok did not have much to say on how the construction should go, as his only request was that it fit into the gardens by showcasing a lot of nature elements.


Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. (July 24, 1870 - December 25, 1957) looked up to his Father, who was well-known in the world of landscape architecture. Once an adult, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. followed closely in his Father's footsteps. Together, they partnered on notable projects such as the White House and the Jefferson Memorial. In addition to these works, Olmsted, Jr. became the first head director of the National Park Services. He incorporated his knowledge of landscape and nature into constructing the Bok Tower. His style of architecture was Gothic, which generally featured gargoyles. His spin on the design was to include birds like eagles and herons, which fit perfectly to the theming of the gardens and can also be seen in Florida. 


Milton B. Medary (February 7, 1874 - August 7, 1929) was an architect that designed the carillon Tower. He was the President of the Institute of Architects, which led him into designing some of America's most beautiful Gothic structures, like the Washington Memorial Chapel at Valley Forge. Medary combined the styles of Art Deco and Neo-Gothic designs, but introduced new features into the construction of the tower. Some examples of his use of mediums were steel framing, and pink and gray marble. The details on the tower were unusual for the style, but Medary felt it was only appropriate for Bok's vision. He included balconies and arched entryways in the building to symbolize the Gothic era without fully committing to one style.


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Lee O. Lawrie (October 16, 1877 - January 23, 1963) was a sculptor that taught himself entirely. His style typically included scenes from biblical stories and/or nature. His work usually had depth behind it, with positive messages of wellbeing and kindness. Lawrie's favorite medium was marble, which he included in sculptures seen throughout the gardens. Lawrie was personally picked by Edward Bok to provide pieces because he was well-known for his Atlas statue that resides in Rockefeller Center in New York City. Another notable piece was his George Washington statue in Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C. 


Samuel Yellin (1884 - 1940) was a metalworker that used iron as the medium for his sculptures. A lot of his work can be seen at several Universities such as Yale, Harvard and Princeton. Much like Lawrie's concept, Yellin aimed to recreate biblical stories in his work. He also included a lot of birds and nature. Lawrie erected a sundial made of metal just outside the Bok Tower. Each hour is represented by the twelve signs in the zodiac calendar. The design of the sundial is of a snake, which represents time.


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 J. H. Dulles Allen (1879 - 1940)- was a tilemaker who utilized colors to draw attention to the stories he attempted to tell. His use of tile and metal often featured pictures of plants and several different species. His vibrant tiles can be seen toward the upper portion of the tower. His goal with this project was to create a sense of balance between species in their environment and gender. Allen contributed to the idea of retelling biblical stories. More specifically, he chose stories from the book of Genesis, which mentions the creation of Earth and animals. 






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At the top of the singing tower lives sixty bells that can be heard throughout the gardens. They are played on a piano-like instrument and can be heard twice a day: at 1pm and 3pm. The bells are played by a carillonneur, which is a French term for an individual who is an expert at playing the carillon. More often than not, those that study the carillon also have experience playing other instruments like the organ. Since the bells attract so many guests while visiting the gardens, there have been multiple carillonneurs since the grounds came about. The bells continue to be a must-do when it comes to visitors' itinerary, making it essential to hire masters of this art.

Anton Brees (1897 - March 6, 1967) was a teacher who started his musical journey by playing the organ. He was the first carillonneur at the gardens and was specifically invited by Edward Bok to play the bells in 1928. Brees would juggle his time playing between the gardens in Florida and Duke University, ultimately placing his feet in Lake Wales and playing at the Singing Tower until his death in 1967. Because of his advocacy and passion for his craft, the gardens dedicated their library to him. The Anton Brees Carillon Library holds hundreds of documents from Anton Brees' personal collection, which were gifted to the gardens by his family following his passing.


Milford Myhre (October 27, 1931 - ) was the second carillonneur for the Bok Tower Gardens. He had a large following throughout the world, as he received multiple awards and medals for his mastery of the carillon. He dedicated 36 years of his life to his work in the singing tower. From the tower, he recorded two albums, which can be found at the gift shop on site. 


William De Turk (Unknown - ) followed Myrhe as the official carillonneur at the gardens for about seven years . His journey did not begin as this, but as a librarian at the gardens for eleven years. De Turk was the president and an archivist for the Guild of Carillonneurs in North America, which led him to receive honors in his name for his commitment and enthusiasm for his passion of this instrument. He has published multiple works, which can also be found in the gift shop.


Geert D'Hollander (May 1965 - ) currently performs (almost) daily in the Bok Tower, and has been doing so for about nine years. Due to his long history composing, performing, and teaching the carillon, he travels to expand his knowledge to other parts of the world when he finds an opportunity to do so.


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What to Do at Bok Tower Gardens:


-Visit the libraries - The official website includes digital archives from the Anton Brees Carillon Library. There is also an official location on the grounds that is open to visitors. The Chao Research Center is located on the second floor of Bok Tower.

-Attend classes - The staff will occasionally host scheduled classes dedicated to the conservation of Florida's endangered and native plants.

-Volunteer - Extend those conservation efforts by educating people on the subject. Visit the official website to see what partners provide volunteering opportunities.

-Schedule a Field Trip - teach the little ones about Edward Bok's legacy and messages.

-Hear the bells at 1pm and 3pm.

-Become a Member - Assist with volunteering and educating, and get discounts on memorabilia, plus free admission!

-Dine - The Blue Palmetto Cafe is on site and overlooks the gardens. 

-Geocaching - Polk County's Trek Ten Trails program hosts these outings. Check website for details.

-Visit the Gift Shop - View albums and publications from carillonneurs or the artists involved in developing the gardens.

-Visit / Take a Tour of the Pinewood Estates - visit the mansion that was potentially going to be on the grounds prior to the gardens. This home was constructed after the gardens were completed.

-Weddings - Book your wedding at one of Florida's most photographed landmarks!