With bells on

A car­il­lon, a rail­road mu­seum and orange juice his­tory make this Florida town a high point.

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - BY NANCY TRE­JOS tre­josn@wash­post.com

Florida is the flat­test state in the union, so it’s funny to think that it has any high points .

But it does. And on a warm, sunny af­ter­noon in early De­cem­ber, I found my­self atop one of them. I was stand­ing 298 feet above sea level on Lake Wales’s IronMoun­tain, one of the high­est points on the Florida penin­sula, mes­mer­ized by the sounds of one of the world’s great car­il­lons, its bronze bells housed in the soar­ing 205-foot Bok Tower, a neo-Gothic an­dart deco mas­ter­piece of pinkandgray mar­ble.

At the base of the tower, a pair of swans floated in a re­flect­ing pool. Stretch­ing out in ev­ery di­rec­tion were stun­ning vis­tas of cit­rus groves, na­ture pre­servesand­wood­land gar­dens de­signed by land­scape ar­chi­tect Fred­er­ick LawOlm­sted Jr.

Also known as the Sing­ing Tower, the Na­tional His­toric Land­mark in this cen­tral Florida town was built in 1929 by Ed­ward W. Bok, a Dutch im­mi­grant and phi­lan­thropist who be­came the edi­tor of Ladies’HomeJour­nal. He fell in love with Iron Moun­tain while win­ter­ing in Lake Wales and bought the prop­erty to cre­ate a place that would “ touch the soul with its beauty and quiet,” ac­cord­ing to the Web site for Bok Tower Gar­dens.

I looked over at my cousin and her 4-year-old son. Jen­nie was ly­ing on a bench, cradling lit­tle Frankie and star­ing upat the tower as the bells pro­duced their en­chant­ing tones. I felt as though I were in an out­door cathe­dral.

Af­ter the 30-minute con­cert, car­il­lon­neur Wil­liam De Turk sprang out of the tower like the Wizard of Oz emerg­ing from be­hind the cur­tain. Though he looked tired, he held court next to the re­flect­ing pool, draw­ing a small but in­quis­i­tive crowd.

“How much main­te­nance is in­volved?” one woman asked. The car­il­lon has more than 60 bells rang­ing in weight from 16 pounds to nearly 12 tons.

“ Things get out of align­ment,” De Turk said. “It’s all open to the el­e­ments.”

“Do you do the main­te­nance, too?” asked a man.

De Turk chuck­led and shook his head no. “You don’t want mu­si­cians climb­ing in there with a coat hanger,” he said.

Just then, a squir­rel be­gan drop­ping nuts onmy cousin’s head. We took that as our cue to leave and hopped on a golf cart to PinewoodEs­tate, the win­ter­homeof C. Austin Buck, an early vice pres­i­dent of Beth­le­hem Steel.

The 20-room Mediter­ranean-style man­sion was built in the early 1930s. Strolling through the lush gar­dens, we came across a Span­ish frog foun­tain lead­ing to a grotto in front of the house. We ad­mired the Ori­en­tal moon gate out­side the din­ing room. Frankie par­tic­u­larly en­joyed the rolling lawn­lead­ing to the lily pond. Be­foreweknewit, he was sprint­ing to­ward a row of pine trees.

The in­te­rior of the house was just as lux­u­ri­ous as the grounds. The en­trance foyer, dec­o­rated as it would have been in the Vic­to­rian era, was laden with crys­tals and pearls. We walked through a ser­vant’s pantry as big as my bed­room. The am­ple liv­ing room held plenty of chairs and mu­si­cal in­stru­ments. “ This was es­sen­tially a party house,” a guide told us. By the looks of it, Buck must have thrown some great par­ties.

Up­stairs, we stud­ied the carved wood­work and the wrought-iron de­tails in the thick walls and doors. Some of the doors seemed­like­work­sof art them­selves. Even the floor tiles were in­ter­est­ing: Buck, who ad­mired Latin ar­chi­tec­ture, had brought them back from Cuba.

Break­ing for lunch, we went to Lake Wales’s other fa­mous house: the Chalet Suzanne, a whim­si­cal, pas­tel-col­ored coun­try inn. The orig­i­nal main house, which in­cluded sev­eral din­ing rooms, had burned down dur­ing World War II. Af­ter the war, the own­ers set out to re­build it. But with money and build­ing ma­te­ri­als in short sup­ply, sec­tions of the prop­erty were added sep­a­rately, so now its din­ing rooms oc­cupy 14 dif­fer­ent lev­els.

We sat in a room over­look­ing a pond with tur­tles. “I feel like I’m on a boat,” Frankie said.

“In re­al­ity, we’re on a screened-in dock,” our wait­ress in­formed him.

Strolling through the rooms af­ter lunch, we came upon such odd items as a statue of a Ja­panese Sa­mu­rai on horse­back en­closed in a glass case out­side a room dubbed the Swedish cock­tail lounge.

As we pulled out of the park­ing lot in our rental car, a plane was land­ing on the prop­erty’s pri­vate airstrip. Ap­par­ently some peo­ple like eat­ing at Chalet Suzanne so­muchthat they ac­tu­ally fly there to do so. There were other odd sights to be­hold. Take Spook Hill, a small in­cline ru­mored to pos­sess a su­per­nat­u­ral force that makes au­to­mo­biles move up­hill. Leg­end has it that a great In­dian war­rior killed a gi­ant al­li­ga­tor there and later was buried on the north side of the hill. A sign in­structed us to pullupto the white line at the bot­tom of the hill, place the car in neu­tral and let it roll. If the leg­end was true, we’d move up the hill. But the car kept rolling back­ward, not for­ward. “Of course it’s go­ing to roll back,” said Jen­nie, ex­as­per­ated. “We’re up­hill.”

We tried four times, but we never moved up­hill. Maybe we were do­ing it wrong. We pulled over and watched a line of cars try. They all seemed un­suc­cess­ful, too. We gave up and drove away.

The GroveHouse, the vis­i­tors cen­ter at the Florida’s Nat­u­ral orange juice plant, was far more in­ter­est­ing. We watched a video about the his­tory of Florida’s cit­rus in­dus­try, then sam­pled juice and other, more un­usual cit­rus-based drinks. Orange choco­late cof­fee was ac­tu­ally yummy.

To learn a lit­tle more about LakeWales it­self, we hit the LakeWalesMu­seum and Cul­tural Cen­ter, more pop­u­larly known as the De­pot Mu­seum. It held an eclec­tic col­lec­tion that in­cluded fur­ni­ture from the city’s orig­i­nal post of­fice, the orig­i­nal city seal, old type­writ­ers and a model train in an Alpine set­ting. Frankie was dis­ap­pointed that the train, hav­ing re­cently de­railed, wasn’t op­er­at­ing.

We stopped to talk to Mike Daily, a mu­seum worker who was set­ting up a new ex­hibit of doll­houses. This is an im­por­tant year for the com­mu­nity of about 12,000, he told us, be­cause the city will be cel­e­brat­ing its cen­ten­nial. He proudly showed us pic­tures of the four lo­cal busi­ness­men­know­nasLakeWales’s found­ing fa­thers.

Few peo­ple know about this lit­tle mu­seum, housed chiefly in a brick and pink stucco build­ing con­structed in 1928 as a pas­sen­ger sta­tion on the At­lantic Coast Line Rail­road. “We don’t do a lot of ad­ver­tis­ing,” Daily said. “Alot of it is word of mouth.”

Which, it seems, would de­scribe all of LakeWales.


At Bok Tower Gar­dens, frogs make a splash in a col­or­ful Span­ish foun­tain on Pinewood Es­tate; at right, the Sing­ing Tower houses a car­il­lon that sounds on the half-hour.


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