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Bok Sanctuary, Florida
What do people come to Florida, on holiday, for ? Is it the sun and sea ? Is it the theme parks ? Is it to play golf ? Is it to fish ? Is it to visit NASA ?
Or is it to try something not normally associated with Florida ? Something away from the hustle and bustle. Something non-touristy. Something quiet, reflective, graceful and elegant. Something so typically non-Floridian.
Having visited all the usual attractions in central Florida, during the past many years, and thoroughly enjoyed them, our attention was drawn, on this last visit, by our Floridian friends, to somewhere we had not even heard of before … Bok Sanctuary.
Situated at Lake Wales, about 30 minutes drive south, on US27, from it’s junction with I4 (junction 55) is a tiny part of Florida, so different from the norm, that one could be forgiven for thinking that one was on a different continent … or indeed several different continents at once, all beautifully and sympathetically rolled up into one.
Edward Bok, a Dutchman was born in the Netherlands in 1863. At the age of 6 he came to America. As he embarked upon his journey to America, his grandmother told him “Make you the world a bit better or more beautiful because you have lived in it”. Edward was to remember these words and incorporated them into his founding inspiration for Historic Bok Sanctuary
“Wherever your lives may be cast, make you the world a bit better or more beautiful because you have lived in it.”
Edward Bok was so taken with the beauty of Iron Mountain that he decided to create a sanctuary for birds and people situated in Florida. In 1922, he acquired a large piece of land that was made up of sandy soil covered with palms and palmettos. Mr Bok asked one of Americas most famous landscape architects to transform the area into a sanctuary that would “touch the soil with its beauty and quiet”.
During the development of the sanctuary Edward Bok decided that he would add a carillon tower to be a visual and aural centrepiece for the garden.
In 1929, the Mountain Lake Sanctuary and Singing Tower was dedicated in a ceremony by the then president Calvin Coolidge as Edward Bok’s gift for the visitation of the American people.
You can enjoy the sanctuary in a one hour visit or a whole day visit. The estate contains many areas of interest. I would suggest you begin your visit to the Education and Visitor Centre. Knowledgeable staff will answer any questions you may have about what you are going to be visiting and you can also watch a short orientation film in the centre’s cinema.
The Exhibit Hall and Museum provides a historical perspective on the life of Edward W Bok. It also gives an overview of the habitat and topography of the area known as Lake Wales Ridge.
The beautiful gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr, are the heart and soul of the sanctuary. The informal woodland gardens complement the Florida native live oak hammock with a mix of native and exotic plants. The gardens which contain over 1000 plant types were designed as a meditative woodland landscape and nature preserve.
The 205 ft carillon tower, designed by architect Milton B Medary, is a National Historic landmark and is in fact amongst the finest in the world. It is a focal point in the gardens and can be enjoyed from near and afar. The carillon rings on the hour and on special occasions recitals are played. The sounds of which can be heard within the estate.
Pinewood Estate, this was the highlight of our visit in December 2004, as the house was decorated for the festive season. The estate contains a 20 room Mediterranean Revival mansion which was built in the early 1930s. Like the Tower, it is listed on the National Register of Historic places. If you wish to take the tour of the Pinewood estate, this admission cost is in addition to the Bok Sanctuary grounds admission price. The mansion was originally named “El Retiro” (Spanish for retreat) and was built as a winter retreat for a wealthy industrialist. The guides within the house are known as “angels”. They are all volunteers and extremely knowledgeable and more than willing to answer all of those burning questions you may have.
Back outside in the grounds of Bok Sanctuary lies the Pine Ridge Preserve Trail. It is a fascinating 0.75 mile walking trail that allows you to explore the native scrub habitat of Lake Wales Ridge.
At the end of your visit, why not stop in the Carillon Café and enjoy a drink, snack or meal and as you leave the grounds don’t forget to purchase a small reminder of your visit in the gift shop.
Bok Sanctuary is open 365 days a year and current opening/closing times are 0800 to 1700. The education and visitor centre doesn’t open until 0900 and the Sanctuary itself closes at 1800. At the time of our visit, general admission charges were Adults $8 and children (5-12) $3. For admission to the Pinewood Estate, there is an additional charge of $5 for Adults and $3 children (5-12).
Special Events currently planned are:
Bok in Bloom – Camellias until Mid March and Azaleas from mid February until Mid March.
79th. Annual Easter Sunrise Service on March 27th 2005 at 06.00.
Concert Under the Stars, Imperial Symphony Orchestra on May 07th at 20.00
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