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
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.
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
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
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
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!