Nestled serenely in Central Florida approximately 60 miles from Tampa and 55 miles from Orlando, is the city of Lake Wales. Come along as I take you on a tour of this beautiful city, founded in 1911, and whose roots are bound in railroad history. Relax and enjoy as we take a look at the city’s architecture, its history, and its music.
I’ll begin with the National Register of Historic Districts as our starting point and describe some of the buildings in this area. First is the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Depot that was completed in 1928. Its architectural style is Mediterranean Revival, a dominant style in Florida during the ‘’20s. The Tampa Theatre, built in the ’20s, also boasts the Mediterranean flavor of that decade. Today, this beautifully restored building houses the Depot Museum.
Next along the CSX (railroad) Historic Corridor, you’ll find the Seaboard Air Line Depot. This small building was originally built in 1916 to handle the rail traffic of that time. In 1975 the depot was given to the city and in 1993 it was moved to its present location. If you’re a fan of model railroads, a visit to the depot is a must as it now is home to the train exhibits of the Lake Wales Model Railroad Club.
Continuing along the corridor, our next piece of historic architecture is the Stuart-Dunn-Oliver House built in 1920. Originally owned by E.C. Stuart, one of the founders of the city, this restored home is decorated with period pieces of that time and is open to the public.
The Dixie Walesbilt Hotel was erected in 1926 as one of the first skyscrapers to be built in Florida. The unique three-part design was first seen in the 1850s and the style continued to be popular well into the 1920s.
A tribute to a way of life in Florida during the early 1900s is the family residence of the Bullard family. Built in 1915, The Bullard-Rumfelt House is one of the oldest homes in the city. Its Colonial Revival design is both decorative and lavish and captures the essence and opulence of that time.
Continuing with the Colonial Revival style is the Tillman-Dowling House built in 1915 for another of the founders of the city, G.V. Tillman. His company was responsible for platting the city itself. If you’re looking for a lovely place to stay while visiting Lake Wales, the Tillman-Dowling house is open as a bed & breakfast. I wasn’t able to find a working website for the Tillman house but I did find another link that gives the contact information, pricing, and a lovely picture.
Chalet Suzanne, built in 1928, is a unique design featuring gables and towers. The name itself gives you the clue that it looks like a Swiss chalet! Beautifully decorated with antiques and fine art, you can experience fine dining with ample atmosphere at the Chalet. Please visit their website at chaletsuzanne.com. Oh, and you can also stay there too!
There are many more historic sites to visit along the way including the Lake Wales Scenic Theater, built in 1920 so that the townspeople would have a place to go for entertainment, the Town Clock that was built and donated to the city in 1931. It was originally located alongside the railroad tracks so everyone traveling the Scenic Highway would know what time it was but was relocated to the Marketplace in 1972. The Holy Spirit Catholic Church, erected in 1927, is an exquisite building and utilizes the Spanish Mission style. Today this magnificent building is home to the Lake Wales Arts Center.
By far, one of the most beautiful attractions to be found in Lake Wales is Bok Tower. Built in 1929, this lovely sanctuary was created by publisher Edward Bok and was originally designed by a famed landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. Located inside the gardens is Pinewood estate, a splendid home situated on 8-acres of Bok gardens that will take you back in time to the lavish lifestyle of the1920’s.
Situated on 157-acres, not only will you enjoy the wildlife, birds and plants that reside in the gardens, you’ll also be entertained by the beautiful music from the 57 carillon bells located in the tower. Please visit their website for much more information regarding their upcoming musical programs and Christmas at Pinewood which will open the day after Thanksgiving and be open for six weeks.
Historic Lake Wales
Welcome to the National Historic District, Downtown Lake Wales, Florida. This beautiful area is home to more than 30 of Central Florida’s finest restaurants and most interesting shops, offering art, antiques, gifts, and much more. Plus, there’s striking architecture and fun nightlife.
Don’t miss the monthly downtown entertainment series, ‘Friday Night Live,’ the third Friday evening of each month. This free event features a variety of great musical groups and solo artists, as well as comedy, dance, and more, at locations throughout the historic district. Dozens of shops and restaurants extend their evening hours and offer special savings to shoppers and diners. It’s a great night out for everyone.
Lake Wales gained national renown when it was struck by three successive hurricanes in only six weeks in the summer of 2004, after 44 years without a storm. While some evidence remains, visitors will be surprised at the energetic restoration that has continued unabated. In 2004, five new businesses opened before the summer storms, and six more have opened since.
Voted Florida’s Friendliest Small Town by readers of Florida Monthly Magazine, Lake Wales was also voted number one in five other categories, but we know that you’ll want to come to see for yourself!
The MarketPlace is located between Park and Stuart Avenues, in the heart of the District. In The MarketPlace, you can find our weekly Farmers Market. Selected fresh fruits and vegetables are offered every Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
The Historic District encompasses the old town, including portions of Central, Stuart, Park, and Orange Avenues, and the adjacent Scenic Highway, Market Street, and North First Street. A brochure is available at the Depot Museum offering a self-guided walking tour of the most significant structures and details of numerous architectural features within the district.
Developed during the Great Florida Land Boom of the 1920s, this quaint collection of specialty shops epitomizes the vintage charm of an exciting era. The district plays an important counterpoint to the colonial history of St. Augustine by preserving the effects of the great Florida population boom which began near the end of the 19th century.
In recent years, an ambitious project was begun to document the history of the old town, including the pioneering individuals who played key roles in the development of the district’s fine buildings. These murals can be located by using the walking tour brochure, or will be encountered “just around the next corner.” Some are featured within this site.
Within this compact area are also found several notable restaurants, offering shoppers comfortable respite during their browsing. Some of them, along with certain other shops, can be visited on the pages of our business directory.
Also within the district is the Depot Museum and Cultural Center, offering changing exhibits on the history of the area. The historic ‘old town’ is conserved within the National Historic District, and is surrounded by a growing and vibrant city. Lake Wales is a center for the arts and offers a number of unmatched cultural resources, including Historic Bok Sanctuary and the Pinewood Estate, the Lake Wales Arts Center, and the Lake Wales Little Theatre. The area is home to a high concentration of artists, as well as Webber International University and Warmer Southern College.
I hope you’ve enjoyed our foray into small-town Florida. Some of the loveliest areas in the state can be found in some of the most out of the way places.