The Beginning of Bok Tower Gardens: A Historical Perspective

In Chapter 36 of The Americanization of Edward Bok, he discusses his retirement and sets the scene for what he calls the “Third Chapter.” Here are two articles that provide a glimpse of the historical events that would eventually lead to Bok Tower Gardens.

Edward W. Bok and famed mathematician/economist Roger W. Babson moved to Lake Wales around the same time in 1922. Both men would leave their mark on Central Florida. Bok created the Singing Tower and Mountain Lake Sanctuary that became Bok Tower Gardens, and Babson would go on to create Webber College, now known as Webber International University. Babson Park is also named for his contributions to this area.

The article reads “Another well known northern man who is soon to build at Mountain Lake is Edward W. Bok, formerly editor of The Ladies Home Journal. Mr. Bok has owned property there for some time and expects to put a home there this summer, having begun work on the foundation during the past week. Mr. Bok is now at Mountain Lake.”

“With his father in law, Cyrus H.K. Curtis of Curtis Publishing Co., Philadelphia, Peter O. Knight and D. C. Gillett of Tampa and August Hecksher of Mountain Lake and New York, they visited Mr. Hecksher’s great development at Templetown last week where 200,000 Temple oranges have been planted this season and last. Mr. Curtis and Mr. Bok came to Florida in Mr. Curtis’ yacht, the Lyndonia, which was at Tampa several days last week. They were much pleased with what has been done at Templetown.”

One month later, The Lake Wales Highlander published this piece on the purchase of land that Bok secured to create his Mountain Lake Sanctuary.

The article reads, “Fourteen arces of land at the extreme top of Iron Mountain, the highest point in Florida, has been purchased by Edward W. Bok of Philadelphia, for many years editor of the Ladies’ Home Journal, who plans to lay it off for a park and bird sanctuary. Mr. Bok has told friends that he expects to give W. H. Olmsted, the famous landscape architect, carte blanche in handling the place and the result in a few years is certain to be one of the show places of the state. “

“Iron Mountain on the Mountain Lake corporation is 324.9 feet high and is, according to the U.S. Geological survey, the highest point yet measured in Florida. It is said to be the highest point within 60 miles of the Atlantic or Gulf between Orange Mountain, New Jersey and the Rio Grande River.”

“Mr. Bok, who is building a home on another site at Mountain Lake, is much taken with the view across Mountain Lake and the Peace River Valley and marshes from the high point. At the time of full moon recently Mr. Bok was charmed with one of Florida’s splash color sunsets at the same time that the full moon was rising in the east and at once opened negotiations to buy the hill top. Mr. Bok has gone north but told friends before he went something of his plans for the park and a wild bird sanctuary on the hill top, which deserves fame because of its being the highest point in the state. From the hilltop may be seen Hickory Hammock in the Peace Valley marsh where on the Caldwell dairy is goriwing a great seedling orange tree, sole survivor of a grove set out by the Seminoles on the, at that time, almost in accessible island in the marsh. Thus are the past and the present of Florida tied to the future.”