This memorandum was written by Frederick Law Olmsted in December 1914 after his first visit to inspect the Mountain Lake property, following his engagement as Landscape Architect by Frederick S. Ruth, developer of the Mountain Lake community.
In 1923, Olmsted Jr. embarked on his mission to transform Bok Tower Gardens from a sandhill into one of the nation’s most beautiful garden sanctuaries. For the next five years, Olmsted Jr. and his team diligently planted a mix of native and exotic plants that would thrive in the humid climate and lend a tropical feel to the native oak hammock.
The phrase “none have better” would become part of the mission for Fredrick Law Olmsted, Jr. as he designed what would become Bok Tower Gardens. Learn more about Fredrick Law Olmsted, Jr.
I am on my way home from a visit of inspection to the Mountain Lake tract near Lake Wales. I went there to study its notable natural scenery in the wild state and to look into the possibility of combining in the development of the tract an exceptional quality of landscape beauty with the economic returns from intensive citrus culture.
I am told that the high elevation of the land above the central Florida plateau from which it rises, considerably increases its value for citrus growing. That lies outside of my line of expert knowledge. But I know that this elevation gives great and peculiar distinction to the landscape both in its present natural state and in its possibilities. I was at first inclined to smile at the idea of calling a hill about three hundred feet high “Iron Mountain.” It seemed a sort of Floridian joke upon the prevailing flatness of the rest of the state. I dare say the name may have been given in jest by the older settler, but as an eminence rising from the coastal plain the superiority of Iron Mountain is not limited to Florida. I believe I am right in my impression that is the highest point of land within sixty miles of the coast between Key West and northern New Jersey, where a hill that is not so enormously higher bears the curiously inappropriate name of “Orange Mountain.” A sort of red pie-crust at the top gives Iron Mountain a fair claim to the first part of its name, and it has a great deal better claim to the title “Mountain” than its opposite neighbor at the other end of the long coastal plain has to the name “Orange.”
Seriously speaking, the height of Iron Mountain is just sufficient, in a flat country diversified by low, rolling, tree-clad ridges and interspersed with countless lakes, to give that quality of varied distant outlook essentially characteristic of views from a mountain, the succession of crest lines silhouetted one beyond another, each bluer and paler till all detail is lost in the horizon. Seen from below it is a fine enough ridge of pine forest for anyone who dreams of alpine scenery, but for those who look outward from its summit, the view has unexpectedly the true quality of that from a mountain. That quality in large measure it is bound to retain whatever happens. Indeed, the substitution of low orange groves for tall pine woods, now rapidly in progress in the surrounding territory, will make the central mass perceptibly more commanding in its view than at present.
Unfortunately, for picturesque, however, the land of the Lake Wales Ridge is so uniformly and completely of first-class quality for citrus fruit that in the ordinary course of development it is likely to become continuously occupied by orange and grapefruit trees set twenty-five feet apart north and south and east and west, row after row, uphill and down dale in ten-acre squares, without a single appreciable break for miles. An occasional row spaced a trifle wider than twenty-five feet to leave room for a road on the checker-board land-office pattern, and an occasional house or shed would scarcely break the continuity.
Now I will give place to no one in my admiration for the beauty of the orange tree and the orange grove. As an artist whose time and thought have been largely devoted to a study of the beauty of trees as elements of landscape composition I hold the orange among the most beautiful of all. But there would be a certain monotony about such a landscape as I have just described only partly offset by its splendor of richness. It would be a wonderful thing to come and see those miles and miles of dark green orange tree foliage, sweeping uniformly over the billowing ridge and hollow from the top of Iron Mountain down to the lakes and to the pine flats and broad prairies where the citrus soil abruptly stops. But one would not care to live with it. It is my belief that there is a positive quality in the beautifully picturesque landscape of appropriately tropical type, in association with the climate of Florida, that people will eagerly desire to live with.
I am satisfied that under the conditions in the vicinity of Iron Mountain by ingenious and painstaking adjustment of the orange groves and of the roads to the naturally picturesque and irregular forms of the ground, and by reserving out from development for orange groves a moderate percentage of carefully selected land occupied by pines and other tall trees, and by guiding and controlling within reasonable limits the character of improvements other than orange groves upon lands sold by the corporation, it will be possible to create a district exceptional for its beauty as well as for its productiveness, and as such exceptionally attractive to the seekers for winter homes in Florida who want the very best.
Other places have good citrus lands, though none have better. Other places have good climactic and healthy conditions though none have better. Other places have the same opportunities for the growth of beautiful tropical vegetation. But nowhere else in Florida are such outlooks to be had as from Iron Mountain, and nowhere else is a systematic effort being made to conserve and develop the landscape beauty of a large tract to the fullest extent in connection with its economic development.