DeLeon (or Ponce De Leon) Springs
Summary of Features
- Scale - 2nd magnitude
- Scenery - very good-fine
- How Pristine? - wall around pool, mill/restaurant adjacent to spring, bathhouse and picnic areas
- Swimming - very good, excellent snorkeling
- Protection - excellent
- Crowds - can be heavy on warm weekends
- Access - excellent
- Facilities - excellent
- Safety - excellent when lifeguards on duty, otherwise good
- Scuba - only as part of an approved diving class
- Cost - $6 per vehicle (up to 8 persons); $1 for each addl. person; $4 per vehicle with only 1 person
Directions (Address and phone: 601 Ponce de Leon Blvd., De Leon Springs, FL 32130, 386-985-4212)
From Deland, drive north on U.S. 17 for 8-9 miles to the town of De Leon Springs. Follow large brown signs from U.S. 17 to the state recreation area, which is located on the corner of Ponce De Leon and Burt Parks Roads.
The spring is in a large semicircular concrete enclosure and is nearly 200 feet in diameter. The bottom is about 6 feet deep at the edges and funnels downward to a small cavern opening at a depth of about 30 feet. Water flows powerfully from the limestone opening and creates a large slick on the surface near the middle of the pool. Water is clear and can be bluish or greenish. When the pool is crowded, visibility is reduced.
A straight wall on the west side of the pool serves as dam and weir to raise the water level in the basin. Water flows out of the spring directly into Spring Garden Lake. From there, flow is to Lake Woodruff, Lake Dexter, and the St. Johns River. There is a restroom/bathhouse on the north side of the spring and a converted millhouse (now used as a gift shop and restaurant) on the south side. The picnic and parking areas are east of the pool.
When JF first visited the spring in 1996, before a renovation of the retaining wall and surrounding buildings, the flow from the vent created a visually spectacular underwater cascade of old snail shells that were "blown" 15 feet up from the bottom before falling again against the steep sides, rolling down to the mouth of the vent, and being blown again and so on perpetually. After the renovation was completed, this underwater phenomenon no longer occurred.
In an e-mail communication (February 27, 2003), Suzanne Kessler describes visiting DeLeon Springs as a child in the 1940s-1950s and swimming in another spring area called Burt's Park:
Burt's Park is right next to the old water wheel at DeLeon Springs, as you walk past it, and down a small way and they you were at Burt's Park. DeLeon Springs was a little bigger, but the way the swimming pool was constructed with benches on the side, just like DeLeon Springs' pool, it was probably built by the same contractor, I would imagine. There are several boils at Burt's Park . . . and there is a road still called "Burts Park Road."
She noted that her aunt and uncle lived in the park after it was not longer open to the public. The authors have not found any written information about this site, which also had statues and swings.
- The spring is the site of a state park with swimming, picnic areas and pavilions, rest rooms, changing rooms, trails, canoeing, paddle-boat rentals, and fishing.
- The ground around the spring is partially cleared and is park-like with mature live oak trees.
- The old mill on the site is now a combination gift shop and restaurant (the Sugar Mill Restaurant).
- The tables feature built-in griddles on which patrons can make their own pancakes with batter made from grain milled on the site. The actual water wheel does not turn anymore.
- The recreation area is very popular in the summer months; picnic tables and pavilions are filled on weekends, and the spring pool is very crowded.
- Lake Woodruff, fed by the spring and lying on the eastern edge of Ocala National Forest, is a National Wildlife Refuge.
As detailed by Rick Tonyan in his essay, "DeLeon Springs: Florida History's Ground Zero," the history of De Leon Spring resonates with much of Florida's overall history. Originally inhabited by Timucuan Indians, the valuable site changed hands (often violently) over the course of 10,000 years. The Spanish took the spring from the Indians, and this spring may be the site referred to by Ponce De Leon in the journal of his 1513 visit to Florida:
We ascended a large river, passing through two small rivers and three lakes, whence we came to a great boiling spring which the Indians call 'Healing Waters.
The spring was finally named for the Spanish explorer in 1886, or 373 years later.
The Spanish planted sugar and establish a mill on the site. Much later, after the French and Indian War, Florida became a British colony and the British reestablished the mill and farm operation. A succession of other owners followed, other tribes, the Spanish again, American settlers, the Indians again, and Floridians, Confederates, Yankees, and finally plain Americans who continued to farm and grind at the mill, which burned down (or was torched) several times over the centuries.
After the Civil War, the spring became a tourist site with hotels, water slides, and a water-powered generator. A large dam built on the site in the 1920s caused so much pressure on the old opening that it stopped flowing and another site opened in the adjacent lake. The larger dam was removed, the new flow stuffed with concrete, and the original flow began again.
Information derived from an article in Halifax Magazine and from Rosenau et al. (1977, pp. 400-402).
De Leon is a skin-diver's and pancake eater's paradise, with unlimited helpings of both. JF was very sad to see that the underwater cascade no longer occurred after the renovation of the retaining wall, and wondered if the work somehow disrupted the natural flow. The spring is well worth a visit.
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Other Nearby Natural Features
Lake Woodruff Wildlife Refuge Welaka State Forest Tiger Bay State Forest Withlacoochie State Forest Ocala National Forest