Tower & Gardens

Our History

Bok Tower Gardens has offered some of Florida’s most remarkable experiences to more than 23 million visitors since 1929. Through its historic landscape gardens, unique Singing Tower carillon and magnificent 1930s Mediterranean-style mansion, the Gardens offer unparalleled opportunities for artistic, cultural, personal and spiritual enrichment.

An Immigrant’s Inspiration

When Bok Tower Gardens founder Edward W. Bok immigrated to America from Den Helder, Netherlands at age six, he did not understand the language, customs or culture. Through determination and hard work, he became a highly successful publisher, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, respected humanitarian and an advocate of world peace and the environment. Bok’s grandmother told him to “make you the world a bit better or more beautiful because you have lived in it,” which he did throughout his lifetime – and it still guides our mission to this day.

During visits from their Pennsylvania residence to their winter retreat near Lake Wales, Florida, Mr. Bok became enchanted with the beauty and vistas from nearby Iron Mountain. At 298 feet above sea level, one of peninsular Florida’s highest points, Iron Mountain offered views of dramatic sunsets. Awed by the tranquility of the area, he wanted to create a place that would “touch the soul with its beauty and quiet,” and chose it as the perfect setting for a bird sanctuary. He purchased land to transform into a sweeping landscape of lush gardens featuring a majestic Singing Tower housing a 60-bell carillon. Originally called Mountain Lake Sanctuary and Singing Tower, he presented this extraordinary gift to the American people Feb. 1, 1929 as an enduring token of his appreciation for the opportunities he had been given.

The Beginning of Edward Bok’s Garden

In 1921, Edward W. Bok was spending the winter months in the residential Mountain Lake community located adjacent to one of the highest hills on Florida’s Lake Wales Ridge, at 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 proper conditions for a subtropical garden in place, the planting of bushes and trees began to provide food for migrating birds. Today, these plantings provide shade to visitors as well as refuge for squirrels and 126 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.