Oft-forgotten in Florida’s realm of tourism, this is the third observation tower located on US 27, resting on top of Florida’s spine.
Located in Lake Placid, a town in Highlands County, the tower was originally designed as an observation tower to view the dozens of lakes and the wilderness among them. Generally known today as the Lake Placid Tower, it has also been known as the Happiness Tower and the Tower of Peace.
Built between 1960-1961, it was the third of the towers built on, or close by US Route 27. The first was the Bok carillon tower (which isn’t an observation tower) at Bok Tower Gardens. The second was the Citrus Tower in Clermont (which continues to be an observation tower). See below for comparisons of the three towers. Those three towers were all built on high points of the Lake Wales Ridge. Think of the Lake Wales Ridge as a series of white sand islands that existed two million years ago when the rest of Florida was under the ocean.
When it was opened in 1961, the tower measured 240 ft (73 m) tall. It was just over 25 ft (7.6 m) square. It had three observation levels at 192 ft (58.5 m), 200 ft (61 m) and 225 ft (69 m) and cost about $350,000. The architect was A. Wynn Howell and the building firm was Ridge Builders.
A. Wynn Howell had his own architect firm in Lakeland and he designed many interesting buildings in the state including schools and churches in Gainesville, Sebring, Mt. Dora and Lakeland. He also submitted a design for the Citrus Tower, however it was rejected.
Much like the Citrus Tower, which it resembles, the tower was constructed of reinforced concrete and concrete blocks but also included limestone tile to finish part of the exterior. Also like the Citrus Tower, each side has a centered vertical line. That vertical line appears to be made up of concrete blocks laid so the holes face outward to create a decorative appearance.
The lower observation deck is protected with windows, while the top two are open to the elements. The top one has been known as the Eagle’s Nest and is located just below the decorative roof tracery. Today the tracery is painted a cyan color but it was originally gold-anodized aluminum.
The tower operated into the 1980s, when it closed for a time. It was reopened until the Millenium, but didn’t have enough visitors to make it truly profitable.
As of 2003, it’s currently closed to the public and it’s only used as a cell phone tower. It sits on US 27 in what looks like a strip shopping mall. The buildings directly connected with the tower are all closed. As of 2020 it’s obvious that it could use some new paint near the top of the tower.
If you could still go up in the tower, you could see lakes Clay, Huntley, June-in-Winter and Placid as well as the largest lake in the area, Istokpoga.
The Lake Placid Tower was designated a historic building by the town of Lake Placid so one can hope that the city might help resurrect it as a tourist attraction one day.
Below is a comparison of the heights and construction dates of the three towers.
HEIGHT – TOWER & SEA LEVEL
205 ft (62.5 m) 500 ft (152 m)
226 ft (69 m) 500 ft (152 m)
240 ft (73 m) 390 ft (118 m)
Note that the highest natural point in Florida is 345 ft (105 m). Known as Britton Hill, it’s located in the Panhandle on the Alabama border. Sugarloaf Mountain, located near Clermont, is the highest point in peninsular Florida at 312 ft (95 meters).
Interestingly, you can visit all the towers in one day as they’re a total of 103 miles (166 km) apart on US 27. Bok Tower is just about 2 miles off of 27. 2 hours of driving time would still leave plenty of time to enjoy Bok Tower Gardens to its fullest. If you do this – time your visit to the Citrus Tower to coincide with the sunset.