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Sunday, February 20, 2022

Bok Tower Gardens with Karen and Connie Stoll

We found that, here in Lake Wales, we are camped not far from our friends Karen and Connie Stoll, who are camped in Peace River, Florida.  Once we realized we would be in the same area, we looked for a place to meet up and catch up with each other after maybe 4 or 5 years.

We've known Connie and Karen since we met them in March 2012 -- the first RV couple we met when we started full-timing.  They are from Buffalo, New York, and we met them at an Escapees rally in North Carolina.  Over the years, we've stayed in touch and looked for opportunities to meet up when our itineraries overlapped.

Once we realized we were able to connect, we looked for a place to meet.  It wasn't long before we identified Bok Tower Gardens, in nearby Lake Wales, as an interesting place to visit together.

Bok Tower Gardens is a 250-acre contemplative garden and bird sanctuary located atop Iron Mountain in Lake Wales, Florida.  It is a National Historic Landmark. The 205-foot Singing Tower, with carillon bells, was built upon Iron Mountain, one of the highest points of peninsular Florida, 295 feet above sea level, is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The local residence of its creator, Edward W. Bok, known as Pinewood Estate, is separately listed on the National Register as El Retiro.

After moving to Philadelphia in 1889, Edward Bok, who was born in the Netherlands, obtained the editorship of Ladies' Home Journal when its founder and editor Louisa Knapp Curtis stepped down to a less intense role at the popular, nationally circulated publication. It was published by Cyrus Curtis, who had an established publishing empire that included many newspapers and magazines.  In 1896, Edward Bok married Mary L. Curtis, the daughter of Louisa and Cyrus.  in 1927, the Edward and Mary embarked upon the construction of Bok Tower Gardens, near their winter home in Mountain Lake Estates, Lake Wales, Florida, which was dedicated on February 1, 1929, by the president of the United States, Calvin Coolidge.  The Boks had commissioned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. to transform what was previously an arid sandhill into "a spot of beauty second to none in the country".

Olmsted had a lifetime commitment to national parks, and worked on projects in Acadia, the Everglades and Yosemite National Park.  He also completed many important design projects in the nation's capital: the National Mall, Jefferson Memorial, White House grounds, and Rock Creek Park. 

We arrived at the Gardens just before Karen and Connie, and, walking to the Visitor Center and Museum, happened upon this docent who offered to conduct Kathy on her own personal tour of the grounds:

The Visitor Center boasts a beautiful central garden surrounded by the museum, cafeteria and gift shop, giving the impression of a Spanish hacienda:

We met the Stolls and walked into the Museum, where we saw this beautiful pointillistic painting of the Carillon Tower --

-- and a scale model of the tower set among large photographs of some of the flora of the Gardens:

In one room of the Gardens Museum is this huge statue dominated our attention:

We wandered up from the Museum toward the Carillon Tower, and noticed these blooms just popping out in one of the gardens:

We arrived at the Singing Tower, and Karen and Kathy posed in front of it on the near end of the tower's reflecting pool:

Connie and David took their turn, too:

We moved around to the south side of the tower and were amazed at the intricacy of the stone carving and colors in the tower's  marble walls:

Below, Karen and Connie work to get a close-up photo of the tower:

The 60-bell carillon occupies only the top of the Singing Tower, some of the rest contains large water tanks to irrigate the gardens, with Bok's baronial study at the base. The 15-foot-wide moat surrounding the tower's base now serves as a koi pond.  The Gothic Revival tower was built at the highest elevation of the site. The tower is 51 feet square at its base, changing at the height of 150 feet to an octagon, with each of the eight sides 37 feet wide. It is built of pink Etowah marble and gray Creole marble, mined in Tate, Georgia, and coquina stone from St. Augustine, Florida.

A beautiful, multi-colored stone sundial is incorporated at the base of the tower's south wall:

From the tower, we had a panoramic view of Florida landscape near Lake Wales, much as Edward Bok saw from the top of Iron Mountain when he was inspired to create the Gardens:

This Japanese Peace Lantern was a gift from Usaburo “Tsuda” Tsujita. Tsuda worked for the Bok family in the 1920s and greatly admired Edward Bok and his campaign for World Peace.  In Japanese, lanterns are called dai-doro and the Peace Lantern was designed in the Kasuga style. It is hand carved and features doves, a symbol of peace.

To the northeast of the tower is a concert viewing grove, where visitors can sit, look at the tower, listen to a carillon concert, and watch a live video feed of the carillonist playing the concert:

Elsewhere in the Gardens, the citizens of Lake Wales, had erected the marble "Exedra" to commemorate the site where Bok's view of a sunset from Iron Mountain inspired him to build the Gardens:

One of the natural beauties of the Gardens is the Pond, which replicates a natural ecosystem from this region of Florida:

By the side of the Pond, the Gardens has a blind viewing structure called, "Window By the Pond," where Connie, Karen and Kathy sat to contemplate the Pond's natural beauty:

We toured the Gardens, paused for lunch at the Gardens' Blue Palmetto Cafe, and then finished out with a post-lunch walk around the remainder of the property before bidding goodbye to the Stolls.  They will feature again in another blog that has something to do with healthy breakfast cereal -- but that's all we'll tell you for now.

In the meantime, we agreed with Karen and Connie that we'll meet up with them a year from now when we're moving through Florida and they are enjoying their new winter home near here.  Stay tuned for that adventure!

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