Lake Wales – All About Polk County

Lake Wales

The land around the present city , now known as Lake Wales, was surveyed in 1879 by Sidney Irving Wailes, who changed the name of a lake, that was then known as Watts Lake, to Lake Wailes. The city of Lake Wales was established near the lake in 1911-12, planned by the Lake Wales Land Company.The men of the land Company believed that the plentiful pine forests would form the basis of a sustainable turpentine and lumber industry, the sandy soil would be ideal for growing grapefruit, oranges and other citrus, and the rolling hills would be the perfect site for a town. The town was later incorporated in 1917, and the City of Lake Wales was granted its municipal charter in 1921.

The Atlantic Coastline Railroad reached Lake Wales in 1925 when the railroad built a new line from Haines City joining lines to Everglades City. A depot was opened on this line at Lake Wales. It served as transport for the naval stores coming out of the turpentine stills, and opened the way for land development and tourism.The construction of the 11-story, 120-room Walesbilt Hotel was completed in 1926, amid the expectation of a booming tourist industry. More and more people began traveling by automobile in the 1920s and 1930s. After a period of stagnation due to the Great Depression, tourism and growth began to pick up in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Although many historic buildings were torn down to build accommodations for tourists during this time, the Lake Wales historic district was thankfully spared.

Bok Tower Gardens was established in 1921 by Edward Bok boasting nearly 50 acres of Olmsted gardens surround Pinewood Estate, a 1930s Mediterranean-style mansion, and the 205-foot art deco and neo-Gothic Singing Tower housing one of the world’s finest carillons with 60 bells that ring every half hour and during daily concerts. Bok Tower stands atop Iron Mountain, the highest point in peninsular Florida at 324 feet above sea level.

The incredible success of Walt Disney World in the 1970’s further impacted the surrounding communities, helping to bring both tourists and employment opportunities. A community redevelopment movement was organized in the 1980’s to aid in preserving the architectural heritage of Lake Wales. In the 1990’s, historic preservation became part of the city’s comprehensive plan so that future changes will reflect and preserve the city’s rich historical past. The Historical Society has made it their continuing mission to assure that Lake Wales history isn’t lost.“Preserving the Past for the Benefit of the Future” is the motto of the Lake Wales Historical Society and they have done an outstanding job of doing just that!