December, 2011

Forgotten Suwannee Springs Once Drew Thousands – Now in danger of disappearing

Suwannee Springs

Suwannee Springs and bath house, circa 1905. -Photo: Submitted by FOSS.

Suwannee Springs Hotel

This is the 2nd hotel, built in 1885 and equipped with 25 sleeping rooms. Notice the horse drawn trolley.
-Photo courtesy of FOSS.

By Tami Stevenson

     In the hearts and memories of some but forgotten by many, Suwannee Springs is in desperate need of some TLC. The 15 foot high limestone walls that are over 100 years old, were built to form a spring water pool. Thousands have enjoyed its waters over the past 130 years or so but sand has built up in the pool over time. According to locals, up until about 40 years ago, they used to have what they called a bucket brigade each year where locals would get together and empty much of the sand that accumulated the year before with buckets, passing them one by one to each other until most of the sand was gone. Now, according to Friends of Suwannee Springs President Janet Politano Nix, the sand is at least 13 feet high.

FOSS found this above for sale on eBay. It says, ‘Way Down Upon the Swanee Ribber.’

     “It’s affecting the walls. They weren’t built to withstand all that sand. Tree roots have also grown into the walls,” said Nix. “If we don’t do something soon, we stand to lose an important part of our history.”
Friends of Suwannee Springs, Inc. (FOSS), is a non-profit group formed in July of this year. Their hope is to create awareness about the springs’ famous history and it’s desperate need of repair. Many are unaware even of its existence. Their goal is to see the historic landmark repaired and maintained but they realize it will take years of hard work, commitment and a lot of funding. They are also working hard to get the structures that are still standing on the National Registry of Historical Places. Nix went in front of the Board Of Governors and asked permission to put the land they own, that has all the historic remains of hotels, cabins, etc., on the National Registry of Historical Places.
     The Springs are managed by the State through the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) and SRWM (Suwannee River Water Management) owns the 14 acres of land where the site lies. The DEP and SRWM do not have an agreement between them concerning Suwannee Springs as of yet, so according to Nix there cannot be any major changes until this takes place.
The springs were said to cure just about everything. Flyer circa 1905. -Photo: Courtesy of FOSS.

     In 1883 the springs were called Suwanee Sulphur Springs and its mineral waters were hailed as healing waters that could, in effect, cure everything from indigestion to Malaria and all things in between. Many famous and wealthy ‘believers’ flocked to the springs for healing and to enjoy the plush hotel built in 1883 with it’s comfortable accommodations. Suwannee Springs Cabins built in 1885

Built in 1885, this is a row of cottages at Suwannee Springs, photo circa unknown. There are two cottages left that sit on the 14 acre site today. -Photo: Courtesy of FOSS

     According to wikipedia, among some of the famous visitors was Robert Bruce Van Valkenburg (September 4, 1821 – August 1, 1888). He was a United States Representative from New York, officer in the Union Army during the American Civil War, and subsequent US Minister Resident to Japan. He retired in Florida and was appointed associate justice of the Florida Supreme Court on May 20, 1874. He held that position until his death in Suwanee Springs in 1888.

Suwannee Springs swimming

Thousands once flocked to Suwannee Springs but few even remember or know about it today.  -Photo: Courtesy of FOSS

     Governor Cary A. Hardee loved the springs and swam there often. Born in Taylor County, Florida, he spent most of his life in Live Oak. He was a lawyer, state attorney, member of the Florida House of Representatives and speaker of the Florida House before being elected governor. He took office on January 4, 1921 and owned a house at the springs. Nix said they are not sure which house was his but they are searching through county records in hopes of finding it.
     One of the first and finest tourist destinations in Florida, the Suwannee Springs Resort Hotel was the first of three hotels built there. Only a year after its completion it burnt to the ground. Another one was erected almost immediately (completed in 1885), equipped with 25 sleeping rooms and a horse drawn trolley for transporting passengers to and from the Suwannee Station (according to the Friends of Suwannee Springs’ website, Suwannee Station was located where the Suwannee Music Park is today), as most of the guests arrived by train.
     Over the next five years, the owners would add many buildings to the resort. A bathhouse, which remained until the 1970’s, eighteen cottages, an annex, a bowling alley, a boiler room and a stable.

Suwannee Springs vacationers

Many of the photos found are too small to print. The above photo is of a family at one of the cabins. If anyone can identify the people shown here please contact FOSS.

     The second hotel was destroyed by fire in 1905. The remains of the third hotel can still be seen today as some of the walls are still standing. It burned in 1925. There is nothing left of the other two, at least nothing left you can see above ground, except perhaps some remains of their foundations here and there.
     Some of the 1885 cabins are still standing. In fact, a couple of them have been restored by private owners and are occupied today. Others have fallen prey to vandals who took everything that could be carried off.

Suwannee Springs in need of repair
Notice the tree roots growing in the walls today. FOSS is desperately seeking help to have the roots removed and the walls repaired.

     “I used to swim here growing up, now this place is in danger of disappearing.” Nix said, “We are working desperately to keep it around for future generations to enjoy.”

     The 14 acres where the resort grounds rest have a lot of potential. Friends of Suwannee Springs is hoping to see the walls repaired and turned into a park with trails where people can swim, camp and enjoy the rich history of the site.


Friends of Suwannee Springs - FOSS

Friends of Suwannee Springs helping to create awareness about the springs’ disrepair at Christmas on the Square in Live Oak. L-R: Co-Secretary Lori Harper, Treasurer Pam Warren and FOSS President Janet Politano Nix.

     Among those involved in FOSS is President Janet Politano Nix, Vice-President Bobbie Tomlinson, Co-Secretary Lori Harper, Treasurer Pam Warren, Supporter Quinn Leibfried, Historian Emily Garner, George Townsend III and Supporter Dean Papapetrou.
     In addition to the above – the group has many more who volunteer on an as-needed basis. If you would like to help in any way you may contact them at: Friends of Suwannee Springs, Inc. P.O. Box 6064, Live Oak, Fl 32064. Or email: friendsofsuwanneesprings@yahoo.com. Or visit their website: www.welcometofoss.org for more information.