Bok Tower and Gardens

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By Christine Creasey

Posted on August 24th, 2005

Bok Sanctuary was created by Edward Bok, a Dutchman whose family had emigrated to America when he was seven.

He became a very successful journalist and editor, winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1920 for his best seller “The Americanization of Edward Bok”.

In 1921, Bok was spending the winter months in the residential mountain lake community located adjacent to the highest hill of Florida's Lake Wales Ridge, 298 feet above sea level. He enjoyed taking evening walks to the top of "Iron Mountain," 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, in thanks for the successful life he had achieved in his adopted country.

He began by creating the gardens. Trenches were dug and water pipes laid for irrigation. Rich black soil was then brought to the site. With the requisite conditions for a subtropical garden in place, planting of bushes and trees was begun that would provide food for visiting birds. Today, these plantings provide shade to visitors as well as refuge for squirrels and more than 100 bird species.

In all the natural beauty of the gardens, Bok believed that something was missing. He remembered the glorious sound of carillons in his native Holland and decided to build a beautiful tower, as the focal point of the Sanctuary, which would be crowned by a large carillon.

The majestic carillon tower was inspired by the Gothic towers and churches of Europe, but adapted to the characteristics of the Florida landscape. The decoration of the tower has a great deal of art-deco influence.

Looking up at the 205-foot Gothic and art deco Carillon Tower is an experience like no other. The Tower houses one of the world’s finest carillons. Recitals from the 60-bell carillon fill the Sanctuary daily. Because the primary purpose of the Tower is to house the carillon, it is not open to the public.

Edward Bok's Singing Tower was sited at the highest elevation south of the reflection pool, so the water reflects its full image. The reflection pool was created to entice wild life to take residence. It gives visitors one of the most memorable experiences in the Sanctuary. Its location captures the reflection of the Tower and offers the first image visitors have when entering the gardens.

A carillon is a musical instrument consisting of at least two octaves of carillon bells arranged in chromatic series and played from a keyboard permitting control of expression through variation of touch. Its keyboard, sometimes called a clavier, is made of long, thin batons, which are depressed with one’s closed fist. It also has pedals for playing some of the bells.Carillon bells have a cup shape and are cast in bronze. They are hung stationary and bolted to steel or wooden beams; only the clappers move. The clappers are connected by mechanical linkages to the keys of the keyboard.

The carillon at Historic Bok Sanctuary consists of 60 bells ranging in weight from 16 pounds to nearly 12 tons.

The Carillon Café is located in the Education and Visitor Center, features indoor and outdoor dining.

The Tower & Garden Gift Shop also located in the Education and Visitor Center, offers a variety of plants, books and gifts. The shop is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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