While sandy beaches are usually the first images that come to mind at hearing the word “Florida,” many born-and-raised Floridians have found that they prefer the particular delights offered by natural springs. Tourists have also discovered the crystal clarity and coolness provided by the natural spring water.
One notable characteristic of springs is that they remain the same temperature regardless of the time of year. If a spring is 68 degrees in January, it will still be 68 degrees in June.
Most large springs occur in the northern half of the state, primarily due to the soil’s structure below the surface of the ground. When it rains, the water drains down through the ground and soil layers into the aquifer below. But occasionally, the water gets caught in a cave in the limestone. When the water enters the limestone, it is cooled and purified, causing the water that emerges to be crystal clear and cold.
While the state has several dozen naturally occurring springs, we are going to focus on Rainbow Springs and river, Blue Springs, Weeki Wachee, and Silver Springs, as these were key historical springs. Long before the house of mouse, people flocked to Florida’s natural springs. In the early 1900s, people knew Florida for its beaches and its natural springs. Many people wishing to escape the north’s cold would travel down for the winter and would stop by the springs on their way further south.
One of the first springs to be advertised was Silver Springs. Glass bottom boats were becoming a trend in the late 1800s, and Samuel L Howse bought up 242 acres containing a naturally flowing spring that feeds water to the silver river. After the civil war, the site gained popularity as more and more people traveled by steamboat and stumbled across the land. He would go on to create a theme park of sorts. He started advertising, and soon the park was up and running with new visitors every day. Silver Springs Park is still open to this day.
Named “little spring” by the Seminoles, Weeki Wachee is currently a state park. However, before the state bought it, the spring was used to put on lush underwater shows featuring girls in Mermaid costumes. The mermaids would perform underwater for long periods without surfacing. They achieved this trick using hoses with flowing oxygen hid where the viewer could not see them. Since its inception in the 1920s, Weeki Wachee has been a tourist destination and still operates today.
If you were to visit Rainbow River, you would find floods of people swimming, tubing or kayaking. Similar to the other two parks, its rise in popularity followed that of the glass-bottom boat. Soon the park grew from just boats to adding a zoo, handmaking waterfalls, and gift shops. Ultimately the interstate and the rise of newer theme parks caused the privately owned park to close in 1974. The state bought the land and reopened it as a state park in the 1990s.
Located just north of Gainesville, Blue Springs has been a tourist attraction since the 1950s. In 2017, Dean Saunders helped facilitate the sale of the privately held Blue Springs park to Florida. The state has since renamed the park the Ruth B. Kirby Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park.
From glass bottom boats to mermaids, Florida’s springs have had a colorful and fascinating history. While not drawing large crowds quite like the tourist attractions in Orlando, Florida’s natural springs still get droves of visitors every year. These crystal clear waters and year-round temperatures make for a perfect weekend getaway or an adventurous place to take your kids.