Lake Wales has a long history dating back over 3,000 years, when the first inhabitants were attracted to the area for its bounty of fish, game and natural vegetation used for food and medicine. Native Americans found the area ideally suited to farming, hunting and fishing, and later, for trading with their new neighbors from the north and west.

New settlers raised cattle, farmed, and began planting citrus. This became the greatest producing area in the world and is still an important industry in central Florida. The settlers also lumbered the virgin stands of pine to extract the sap for turpentine stills, beginning in the mid-1880s. Although the early forefathers and city planners could not have foreseen the tremendous growth in the past 80 years, they had the vision to create a basic design that works well today.

Though a frontier town in its formative years, Lake Wales became an area leader in cultural arts and tourism in the early 1900s, with the building of the Mountain Lake Community and the famous Bok Tower Gardens Carillon Tower. The tower was erected in 1929, and dedicated by President Calvin Coolidge.

graphicPaved highways enabled the first tourists to visit this tranquil retreat. The Atlantic Coastline Railroad reached Lake Wales in 1911. It served as transport for the naval stores coming out of the turpentine stills, and opened the way for land development and tourism. 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 picked 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 spared. The success of Disney World in the 1970s further impacted the surrounding communities, bringing both tourists and employment opportunities. A community redevelopment movement was organized in the 1980s to preserve the architectural heritage of the city. In the 1990s, historic preservation became part of the city's comprehensive plan so that future changes will reflect and preserve the city's historic past.

Lake Wales is proud of its historical and architectural heritage, and is committed to preservation. "Preserving the Past for the Benefit of the Future" is the motto of the Lake Wales Historical Society.


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