As a change from the staple offerings of Orlando, I took a half hour drive on US Highway 27 (Florida’s principal north-south highway). I was going to see an old time Florida landmark – the Florida Citrus Tower, which is just 40 kilometres out of Orlando. The Tower is located in Clermont, in what was once orange country.
The Florida Citrus Tower was built in 1956 – a time when the high-tech, glitzy and glamorous attractions of Orlando’s theme parks did not exist. When it was being built, the Tower was not regarded as a great idea but it turned out to be a very popular Lake County attraction of Central Florida.
It boasted an elevator that took people all the way to the top. At that time, visitors on the observation deck were able to observe the surrounding green hills, lakes and the miles of orange groves. They had panoramic 360 views of 8 counties. You still do but the scenery has changed. Now office blocks, shopping centres and residential suburbs have come up where the orange groves once stood. Several back-to-back freezes killed crops and pushed citrus growers farther south or out of business.
When the Florida Citrus Tower was built it was the highest point in Florida. It stands on Lake Wales Ridge, one of the highest hills making its pinnacle 525 feet above sea level. The Tower itself is 226 feet tall. It took a year and 5 million pounds of concrete to build.
It still is the tallest and epitomises some 57 years of Florida heritage. At the height of its popularity over half a million visitors came every year came for the view, pecan rolls. Many went away with bags of oranges.
All that history aside, I was quite fascinated by a unique and intriguing curiosity in the Tower. It is the famous coin drop – a sort of wishing well. The observation deck, at the top has a steel tube that goes all the way down to the bottom of the Tower. You drop your coin into the tube and then put your ear to one of the two listening pieces and listen to it fall all of 226 feet. The coin makes a bell-like sound as it hits the bottom and you can hear it very, very clearly! The collected coins are donated to the Green Isle Children Ranch.
The beige paint on this half-century old landmark is fading and the original orange stripe that ran down the outside of the building is gone. There are plans to restore it, though. Another change is that the outside deck above the enclosed observation section has been closed to the public because people were throwing objects down from there.
In the lobby area you will find architect models of the building along with bell broadcasting equipment. Every half hour they broadcast a variety of tunes played on the bells. There are some nostalgia-creating black and white photographs of lakes, green hills and orderly rows of orange trees stretching into the distance.
The floors in the building are now leased to a variety of communication companies. Their dishes and antennae adorn the outside of the building. In addition to its role as a tourist attraction, it is now a telecom tower. Another addition is the banquet room facility called Valencia.
Around 15,000 people still come and buy tickets to go up the Tower. You can buy souvenir post cards, t-shirts, plates, teacups and other keepsakes of the early days of the Tower. For me it was worth the visit despite all the scenic changes.
The Tower will host a special and spectacular Christmas Light Show on 30th November at 6:00pm. The event is free to viewers.
The Florida Citrus Tower is open every day from 8:00am to 5:00pm.
Image Credit : Robert Blackie