White (or White Sulfur) Spring
Summary of Features
- Scale - 2nd magnitude
- Scenery - very good
- How Pristine? - large concrete/wood structure around spring; land cleared
- Swimming - no
- Protection - excellent
- Wildlife - poor
- Crowds - can be crowded on warm weekends
- Access - excellent
- Facilities - excellent
- Safety - very good
- Scuba -
- Cost - free to see spring; $5 per vehicle to enter the park
Address: 11016 Lillian Sanders Dr, White Springs, FL 32096, (386) 397-4331; website: www.floridastateparks.org/park/Stephen-Foster. The spring is 0.1 mile west of the intersection of U.S. 41 and State Road 136 on the Suwannee River in White Springs. Look for signs to the Stephen Foster Folk Culture State Park. As you approach the Culture Center, you will see the old spring house on the left. You can pay to enter the park, or park at the spring for no charge.
The spring flows from a limestone cavity and into the adjacent Suwannee River. It is enclosed by the remnants of a large "spring house," a four-story structure with beveled corners on the inside that provided access and accompanying health treatments. Multi-level ports—a tall sluice gate—in the spring house were designed to limit intrusion of the river when water levels were high. Stairs lead to the top, which is covered with a white wooden structure with cedar shingles. The gate is gone now from the sluice but water still flows out through it into the river. The flow was strong when the authors visited in 1998 and 1999.
The pool is circular and 12-15 in diameter. Most of the pool is only about three feet or deep or less. The water has a sulphurous smell and is lightly tannin-colored. The depth of the pool varies with the level of the river. The park ranger told RB that the spring hadn't flowed for several years, but is now flowing again. Either the water table was too low (due to industrial drawdowns?) or part of the cave had collapsed. During the floods of winter, 1998, the water rose above the railing around the top of the spring house—approximately 35 feet.
- The spring has no current use, but is frequented by visitors to the Culture Center. It is one of the most complete ruins of the types of structures that were built around a number of Florida springs in the late 19thand early 20th centuries.
- Doctors' offices, changing rooms, and concessions were once located inside the wings of the building. Wooden balcony-walkways led around each floor looking down into the pool, giving a gallery effect. You can still see the niches in the wall where the galleries were attached. An elevator on one side carried patients from pool level to the top, and from there they could get to the wings – no door was cut in the thick concrete walls surrounding the spring. In the middle you can look down on the spring itself, but don't jump –it's quite a drop, and besides, wooden grill work bars you from the side over the deepest part, the side most distant from the river.
- The adjacent Stephen Foster Folk Culture State Park costs $3.25 per car. It features the Stephen Foster Museum in what looks like an antebellum plantation house. On closer inspection, the walls are revealed to be made of concrete block. Inside is furniture that Foster owned and a continuously running video about White Springs. One learns that Foster never saw the Suwannee River–he just needed a two-syllable southern river name that sounded melodic and exotic. The Philadelphia native pored over an atlas, and after rejecting various names (including "Peedee), his finger happened to pass over the Suwannee. He changed the spelling to Swanee in his famous song.
- Four times a day–10 a.m., noon, 2 and 4—the bell tower plays Stephen Foster songs on its giant carillon. Inside the tower are old manuscripts and other Foster memorabilia. Near the tower is a store selling crafts, many of which are made locally.
- Various cultural events are held here, the most famous being the Florida Folk Festival each spring, a big musical event.
- The Culture Center includes picnic areas, grills, and a section of the Florida Trail that runs along the Suwannee River in the park.
- The Center also includes a "Craft Square" where visitors may observe craft makers create old-timey crafts.
- White Sulfur Springs was once the site of a health spa and 14 hotels. Trains and steamboats brought visitors to the site by the thousands each year. In 1895, according to the park video, the town had 2,000 inhabitants, making it one of the larger towns in Florida. Today, this picturesque little town has less than half that population. Take time to read the white sign in the parking lot by the gate. It has an old photograph of the springhouse, built in 1906, and a floorplan. One could stay here for $3.50 a night, including "excellent meals." People flocked here in hopes that the healing waters would cure them of "rheumatism, indigestion, dandruff, insomnia." Treatments ranged from the Violet Ray (75 cents) to $3 for the "special treatment for high blood pressure." Among the visitors were Theodore Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway. Unfortunately, a fire swept throughtown in 1911, and the resort went downhill from that point.
- Native Americans also used the site.
Go down by the river when the water is low and stand on the big flat limestone shelf next to where the water comes out the spring. The Suwannee is narrow here–nothing like the wide river it becomes father south. The wooded banks on the other side are steep and sandy. From this angle, the springhouse looks sort of like a castle tower. Upriver RB could see the inevitable rope attached to a high tree limb nearby, with kids swinging off into the water.
- Mattair Spring
- Bell Spring
- Louisa Spring
- Iron (or Wesson's Iron) Spring
- Suwannee Springs
Other Nearby Natural Features
- Big Shoals
- Little Shoals
- Swift Creek