What is the History of the Florida Springs?

Commonly known as the Sunshine State, Florida has over 1,000 known springs, making it the spring capital of the world. While only a few of these springs are open to visitors, they offer many activities that nature lovers and explorers love. If you are looking for fun facts and a quick rundown of the History of Florida Springs. Take a look at this article during USA Travel.

As one may imagine, the springs are overflowing with history. In fact, prehistoric artifacts—mainly tools, pottery, and weapons that date towards from the later stage of the Ice Age—were recovered from the springs that dot Florida.   

History of the Florida Springs

History of the Florida Springs

How Did Florida Get Its Name?

Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon came to Florida around April of 1513. Because it was Easter, he decided to name the place Pascua Florida, which roughly translates to a flowery festival or Easter Flower.  

A long-held myth states that Ponce de Leon arrived in Florida looking for the fountain of youth, which drew him to explore several springs in Florida.

How were the Springs Formed?

According to state geologists, Florida springs were formed some 20–25 million years ago. The bodies of water receded millions ago, exposing the Floridian peninsula to acidic rainfall that destroyed its predominantly limestone-rich landscape and created what were essentially large sinkholes.

The depth of the sinkholes pushed water underneath, only for the water to escape the earth’s surface, flowing through the network of limestone caves called aquifers, and later leading to the formation of Florida’s springs.  

Florida’s Historically Famous Springs

Today, most of Florida’s famous springs are owned by the state.

But, because they were formed millions of years ago, the springs drew prehistoric humans and hold a colorful past.

The springs were the epicenter of human settlements in varying stages of human history. Pleistocene fossils, and a collection from indigenous people and early settlers, collectively called the Timucuan artifacts, were uncovered in various portions of the Florida Springs.

  • Troy Spring — The remains of a sunken Confederate steamboat named Madison still sit at the bottom of Troy Spring. The Madison was owned and helmed by captain James Felix Tucker, and was used mainly as a mail courier service, as well as a floating store, delivering goods along with the Suwannee River settlers. Tucker allegedly ordered the Madison to be deliberately sunk so as not to fall into the hands of the enemy, the Union, during the American Civil War.   
  • Silver Springs — Located in Ocala, it is considered to be Florida’s oldest tourist attraction. Visitors flocked as early as the 1870s thanks to the introduction of glass-bottom boats that allowed the tourists to see underwater life. This, and the owner’s impressive marketing skills, allowed Silver Springs to draw in thousands of tourists.
  • Weeki Wachi Springs — A former sailor named Newton Perry discovered this spring in Hernando County in 1946. Perry turned the area into a business opportunity by starting an enchanting mermaid show that drew in tourists from 1947 until the 1950s. Perry creates a special hose to allow the attractive women who starred in his mermaid show to breathe underwater.

The state of Florida acquired this spring in 2008. To date, the mermaid shows continue to enchant visitors, as the state converted the spring into a theme park, adding a few attractions such as animal shows, boat cruises, and a slide that goes straight to the springs.

  • Wakulla Springs — In the 1850s, the bones of a mastodon were found at the bottom of one of Wakulla Springs’ basins, which are currently on display in the Florida Museum of History.

Entrepreneur Ed Ball acquired the spring, but it was not as fancy as some of the others in Florida, so Ball relied on the springs’ natural beauty and underwater caves to entertain the crowd. An 11–foot-long alligator named Old Joe, as well as Henry the Pole Vaulting Fish, were also part of the main tourist attractions.

Wakulla Springs became a state park in 1986.

History of the Florida Springs

  • De Leon Springs — Named after the Spanish explorer who stumbled upon the State, De Leon Springs is a testament to the horrors of war. In the 1830s, a sugar cane mill was built in the area, but was destroyed in the Second Seminole War and the Civil War.

Seeing its rich historical value, miller Peter Schwarze refurbished and restored the ramshackle mill to its old glory and became the modern-day attraction called The Old Spanish Sugar Mill Grill and Griddle House.

Before this restoration, De Leon Springs featured a water-skiing elephant named Queenie, a cruise, and circus performances.

Springs Converted into State Parks

Other springs in Florida have been converted into state parks, and they operate most days of the week. Closures happen occasionally as hundreds of manatees gather in Florida Springs during specific periods of the year. 

The following parks are formed by springs and rivers that run and meander along Florida’s rich landscape:

  • Blue Spring State Park — Located along the St. John’s River in Orange City, manatees—also called sea cows—often congregate in the area. 
  • Fanning Springs State Park — One of the many springs along the Suwannee River, Fanning Springs is said to produce 65 million gallons of water daily.
  • Florida Caverns State Park — This park of stunning underground caves with passageways, was built by Civil Conservation Corps men in the 1930s.
  • Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park — A popular train stop in the 1900s, this area has since become home to captive animals such as black panthers, red wolves, black bears, bobcats, alligators, and—of course—manatees.
  • Ichetucknee Springs State Park — This park features spring-fed rivers and is well-known for warm-weather tubing and diverse wildlife.
  • Lafayette Blue Springs State Park — The spring waters from Lafayette flow beneath the moss-covered oaks lined up on the Suwannee River.
  • Madison Blue Spring State Park — This spring was voted as the top swimming hole in the U.S. by USA Today and is a popular diving spot, too.
  • Manatee Springs State Park — Being able to swim with the manatees is one of the main attractions that draw tourists to this area. 
  • Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park — This place features two major springs, a spring run, and six sinkholes. It was named in honor of explorer, diver, photographer, and cave diving pioneer, Wesley Skiles.
  • Rainbow Springs State Park — Located in Dunnellon, Florida, it forms part of Rainbow River, which merges with Withlacoochee—or Crooked—River.
  • River Rise Preserve State Park — Known for hiking, fishing, and wildlife viewing, the water formed in this park are tributaries to the Santa Fe and Suwannee Rivers.
  • Suwannee River State Park — Suwannee River begins in the Okefenokee Swamp in southern Georgia and meanders towards Florida.
  • Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park — The park features a 351–feet deep salt spring that anglers and bird and wildlife watchers can enjoy.

Key Takeaway

Florida is dotted with springs that you and your family can enjoy, some of which have fascinating historical links. If you love to have a fun-filled adventure, whether, on the weekends or weekdays, you visit any of the state-run parks.   

Last Updated on October 4, 2023

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.