Suwannee Springs: A Surviving Example of Early Florida Tourism

5 Comments

Last week I was contacted by a newly formed group, Friends of Suwannee Springs (you can find them on Facebook!). They were formed to preserve and protect this little known historic site. I say little known, perhaps because I

Look for this sign off of Hwy 129, right before you cross over the Suwannee River. It will be on your right.

was previously unaware of its existence. However, after meeting with them, I have come to find out that many people were previously unaware of its existence besides the locals. To the local population however, it has been a popular gathering place for generations and many of the people I spoke with grew up learning how to swim in this spring! I decided that in order to work with them, I needed to become familiar with this site, so a road trip was in order! The site is located approximately 7 miles north of Live Oak and a few miles north of I-10 off of Highway 129, and thanks to the efforts of the Friends of Suwannee Springs, the Florida Department of Transportation has recently posted a road sign pointing the way!  The property is currently owned and maintained by the Suwannee River Water Management District. They have created a nice picnic area and a walkway overlooking the spring. There is a hiking trail and a swimming area on the Suwannee River as well. The area is open from 8:00 AM until 7:00 PM every day. No overnight camping is allowed, but the area is open to swimming, biking, hiking and fishing.

Historic ad for Suwannee Springs.

The history of Suwannee Springs goes back quite a ways, but in the mid- to late-1800s it was a popular notion that sulfur and mineral springs had unique healing qualities. It became popular for resorts and sanitariums to be constructed on or next to these springs. Often times the water was also bottled and sold. Suwannee Springs, thus, became a popular destination for tourists to the area. The water from the spring was also bottled and sold and was available for sale by druggists.  A wall was constructed out of local limestone around the spring in the mid-to late-1800s. A hotel and approximately 18 private cottages were eventually also constructed at the site. It is important to note that the site passed through many owners’ hands and that several hotels were constructed at various times throughout its history. In all, three hotels were built at the site. Unfortunately, the reason so many hotels were constructed is because there were multiple structural fires that destroyed some of these buildings. The last hotel burned down in 1925 and up until sometime in the 1970s visitors would spend their summers in one of the private cottages near the spring.

Suwannee Springs was so popular as a vacation and convalescing destination that old advertisements for the resort can be found in newspapers from around the country. Many of these newspapers

Visitors can still enjoy the refreshing spring water today!

advertise the spring as a location with amusements, pleasant evenings, bathing, freedom from malaria and other ailments, and of course, the healing virtues of the spring water itself! It was

Old postcard of cottages at Suwannee Springs.

marketed as a sure cure for rheumatism and blood diseases, appetite loss and insomnia (among other ailments). The spring was also listed by the railroads as one of the best summer resorts.  It could be reached via the Savannah Florida and Western Railway, Georgia Southern and Florida Railway and the Florida Central and Peninsular Railway.

Today all that remains of the site are the ruins of the spring wall and two dilapidated cottages. Apparently some of the other remaining cottages are held in private

Current condition of two remaining cottages.

ownership and have been restored, but only two remain on public lands. I was amazed at the beauty, even in its current ruinous shape, which this site possesses. Looking at it I can picture children in the early 1900s jumping off the sturdy limestone wall into the spring! It was as if I could almost hear the people laughing and splashing! People still visit the site to take a quick dip, either in the spring or the Suwannee River. In fact, a family was there swimming during my visit. This site is reminiscent of a unique period in Florida’s history. This site is a surviving example of the birth of Florida tourism as we know it today. Our fancy, high-end resorts, as they exist today, look quite different from the resorts and sanitariums of the late 1800s and early 1900s! You have to wonder though, did the early spring resorts lay the foundation for Florida as a resort destination?

So, the next time you are passing through Live Oak, take a detour to the Suwannee Springs to check it out yourself. I am sure you will fall in love with this unique piece of Florida history just as I recently have. Just remember, these sites are fragile and deserving of respect. Hopefully, one day, this site will be returned to its previous state, but as of now, it demands a certain amount of caution to prevent it from further destruction. Let us do what we can to ensure that future generations can enjoy this site just as people have for over 100 years. Pack a picnic, bring your swim suits and enjoy the beauty that Florida’s unique history has to offer!

Photo shows the fragile state of the wall surrounding the spring.

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Thomas Skierski
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 00:39:45

    Love the article we live 5 miles from this spring and go there frequently to lounge in the spring. It breathe taking even in the summer with tempertures in the low 70s the water has a high concentration of sulfur which gives it the color and smell but feels really good. The owner SWRMD has replaced fencing, stairs and is doing a great job cleaning the park. Try it out at no cost to the public, FREE.
    During this month August and September
    while the weather is fine come float down the Suwannee River on a canoe across the highway US 129 at the Spirit of the Suwannee. Check out the abandoned steel bridge with its huge rivets from yesterdays. Enjoy the wonderful spring fed creek beside this bridge across from Suwannee Springs.

    Reply

  2. Katherine Quinn Leibfried
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 01:39:26

    Thank you for this incredible article! Not only is it very well written, the illustrations are wonderful. I am one of those “Friends of Suwannee Springs” and my family stayed in one of the cottages when I was a child.

    People like you make a difference in this world. Thank you!

    Reply

  3. ellen camp batcheldor
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 23:23:27

    Your article was great! My father, John C. Camp, along with a few other investors owned Suwannee Springs during the 60′s. We lived at the “Springs” in the late 40′s until we moved to Jasper in `1956. We spent all of our summers there. I was the life guard during the early 60′s. We think it was purchased to keep it from being neglected–or abnadoned. (because we lived there., I think the group that bought the Springs was trying to keep it up–later on it could have become too much of a liability –I don’t know for sure) ) It was a wonderful spring–the water was cold and filled the whole area (left to right). I think that the sand is a result of Floods of the Suwannee. We iced down watermelons in the far right corner. I was there this past week-end and the big boil is valiently trying to survive. The other two “boils” are covered with sand. I hope we don’t lose this treasure!!

    Reply

  4. Mary Kay Grant Thompson
    Oct 22, 2011 @ 03:10:56

    My family loved going to Suwannee Springs in the 60′s. We, too, iced down water melons, jumped off the wall and swam through the cave. That cave!!! It was a prize in itself as you wiggled through, hoping your suit would not snag on the jagged rocks. Ask Mary Mosley Green about her mother, as a young woman, swimming through the cave at Suwannee Springs. It smelled like rotten eggs when you first approached the spring (sulpher) but once you jumped in the water and felt the surge of energy it smelled fantastic! It was a complet package of life, giving your skin a refreashing soft feel and your hair was so clean! I can still remember the smell and how I loved being there with friends and family. I have not returned to the springs since 1964.

    Reply

  5. Bobbie Tomlinson
    Aug 12, 2012 @ 17:27:30

    Suwannee Springs is a very unique, historical site in Suwannee County. You will find no other place like it in the entire State of Florida. The Spanish monks were the first ones to construct a wall around the series of “boils” that produced a cold, crystal clear bounty of water from our aquifer. The 100+ year old limestone rock walls, that are still standing today, made it possible for the water to form a nice big pool for swimming on a hot summer day. We as a group,(FOSS, Inc.) hope to restore, maintain and preserve this wonderful site for future generations to come. We need your financial support….you can send check or money order to FOSS, Inc. @ P.O. Box 6064, Live oak, Fl., 32064 or visit our website @ welcometofoss.org and use paypal.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

*