Known as the Crown Jewel of the Ridge, Lake Wales sits in the center of the state, about 54 miles southwest of Orlando, just off Highway 27 and State Road 60. With its historic roots, its quirky qualities, and its persona of a small city with a hometown atmosphere, Lake Wales is a true Floridiana find.
Lake Wales history
Lake Wales was first settled in 1911 by a group of businessmen known as the Lake Wales Land Company. These individuals purchased 5,000 acres around Lake Wailes, named after land agent Sidney Wailes. The Lake Wales Land Company saw the property as ripe for a turpentine and lumber industry, as well as growing citrus crops.
Points of interest
Historic Downtown and the murals
Downtown has been recognized as a National Historic District and proudly boasts numerous buildings which have been restored to the splendor of the 1920s and ’30s. It is also home to 21 murals, with the earliest dating back to 1942. It hangs inside the lobby of the post office on West Park Avenue. A map of the murals’ locations, as well as descriptions about them, can be found at the Lake Wales Mural website.
Lake Wales Museum
The Lake Wales Museum sits inside what was once the Atlantic Coast Line Depot and provides a closer look at the town’s history, from the railroad to the turpentine industry.
Bok Tower and Gardens
Founded by Edward W. Bok, the gardens opened to the public in 1929 and now features nearly 50 acres of lush gardens filled with palms, ferns, oaks and other trees. Also on property is the Pinewood Estate, a 20-room mansion built in the early 1930s that is open for tours.
The centerpiece to the gardens is the 205-foot Bok Tower which houses one of the finest carillons anywhere in the world. With 60 bells, the tower rings out with concerts every day at 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m.
Do cars really roll uphill? That’s for you to decide when you visit Spook Hill. When you get to the “hill,” park your car on the white line, put it into neutral, and see what happens!
Struthers’ Honey is one of those must-see places. Situated about 15 minutes east of Highway 27 along Highway 60, this honey store operates on the honor system, meaning there is usually no one inside to take customers’ money. Struthers’ Honey opened for business in 1935 and may be the oldest honey store in Florida working on the honor system.
Lake Wales events
Orange Blossom Revue
Getting its name from the impact of the citrus industry in Central Florida, this event is held in early December and includes barbeque competitions, regional musicians, arts and crafts, and craft beer featuring Florida breweries.
Lake Wales Mardi Gras
During the first weekend of March, Lake Wales hosts what is dubbed “A Festival for Florida.” It features live music, a parade, a 5k run and plenty of fun for the entire family. The festival began in 1984 in memory of Vinton Davis, owner of Vinton’s New Orleans Restaurant and lover of carnivals and the Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
Whether you are taking a trip into downtown, visiting the tower on the hill, or participating in any number of festivals and celebrations, nostalgia and culture abound. It’s a day trip worth planning.
Doris Keeler is a freelance writer and blogger from Orlando who travels the state on weekends searching for people and places that represent “old Florida.” If you’re looking for things to do, or just want to see some of the unique things around the Sunshine State, visit her blog at FloridianaMagazine.com.