A Florida Friday: Travelling back in time at Wakulla Springs

Wakulla Springs, Florida

Wakulla River, Florida

Wakulla spring head

Wakulla spring head

Wakulla Springs - springhead

Wakulla spring head

It’s fun to come across decades-old (or even better, centuries-old) descriptions of places you’ve visited or hope to visit some day. Once you have the opportunity to compare your experiences with those of your predecessors, you may find that much has changed. Then again, you may discover that things have barely changed at all.

Not long ago, I came across some descriptions of the majestic Wakulla Springs that appeared in an Illinois paper dated 1851, and three separate New York newspapers, one from 1855 when Florida’s total population was only about 87,000; one from 1866, when the population was roughly 180,000, and one from 1886, when that number was inching toward 390,000. Back then, few would have ventured further south than Orlando and the lake areas in the mid-section. (Note: The New York clippings are from Old Fulton NY Post Cards; the Illinois clipping is from Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections.) From the vantage point of 2014, these mid- to late-19th-century observations by some early Florida travelers are a treat to read.

Today’s Florida has 20 million people, many of whom have flocked to the southern reaches of the state, leaving northern Florida largely underpopulated, apart from the big cities, which really aren’t all that big. Here, one can find dozens of springs spread about the map, and we visited many of them a half decade ago when we went on a ‘springs binge.’ You see—once you’ve seen one, you’ll want to see them all! While each has its own magic, Wakulla remains our all-time favorite.

Wakulla Springs—to the  south of Tallahassee, Florida—is one of the world’s largest and deepest freshwater springs. This unspoilt landscape of breathtaking beauty has been captivating visitors for thousands of years.

It was a chilly February afternoon when we visited, and we were completely blown away by the crystal clear waters, abundance of wildlife—birds of all kinds—and the soul-penetrating peace that reverberates here.

Wakulla Springs, Florida

Wakulla River, Florida

Wakulla Springs is being preserved within the Florida State Park system as the Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park. An historic working 1930s lodge is the gateway to entering the springs. Had we known it existed, we probably would have spent at least one night there, especially for the purpose of sitting out on the veranda in the evening to listen to the gators and other night-time critters.

Right over the spring head is a platform for doing cannonballs and an area roped off for swimming. With gators not far away, I’m not sure I would venture forth, although I suppose the riskiest times are dawn and dusk, so day-time is probably okay.

Glass-bottom boats cruise from here, gently carried along by the power of the 1st magnitude spring waters that give rise to the nine-mile-long Wakulla River.

The cave system at the spring head is vast—one of the largest in the world—and professional cave divers have been busy over the years mapping its 12 miles and investigating the prehistoric artifacts found within it. For a wonderful interactive feature that lets you ‘explore’ the caves yourself, click here, and then on the image labelled ‘Exploring Wakulla.’ Be sure to use the ‘scroll’ feature along the bottom to get your diver to the end of the system. By the way, I recall a guide telling us that when located under the lodge, cave divers have been able to hear voices coming from within its dining room!

Well, now that you’ve heard my take on Wakulla Springs, I invite you to scroll down to read the 19th-century accounts below. As I read them, I tried to imagine Wakulla Springs without the lodge, the boats, the fencing, the platform, the swimming buoys, etc., and the reactions of those who simply chanced upon it—it must have been even more hauntingly beautiful, which hardly seems possible.

Wakulla Springs, Florida

Wakulla River, Florida

***************************Sangamo Journal (Illinois), 3 Sept 1851*******************************

Sangamo Journal 3 Sept 1851

Sangamo Journal 3 Sept 1851

******************************Niagara Falls Gazette, 28 Feb 1855****************************

Niagara Falls Gazette, 28 Feb 1855

Niagara Falls Gazette, 28 Feb 1855

Niagara Falls Gazette, 28 Feb 1855

Niagara Falls Gazette, 28 Feb 1855

Niagara Falls Gazette, 28 Feb 1855

Niagara Falls Gazette, 28 Feb 1855

river2.

Section of the Wakulla River with its abundant cypress trees

****************************Syracuse Daily Standard, 16 Mar 1866****************************

Letter from Florida, excerpt, by Miss Chloe Merrick, Syracuse Daily Standard, 16 March 1866

Letter from Florida, excerpt, by Miss Chloe Merrick, Syracuse Daily Standard, 16 March 1866

**************************Watkins (NY) Gazette, 20 April 1886***************************

Watkins Express (Watkins, NY), 29 Apr 1886

Watkins Express (Watkins, NY), 29 Apr 1886

Watkins Express 29 Apr 1886

Watkins Express 29 Apr 1886

boats

Glass bottom boats by the lodge

gator2

anhinga

gator

turtles

river

Wakulla Springs, Florida

Wakulla Springs, Florida

Lodge at Wakulla Springs, Florida

The Lodge at Wakulla Springs, Florida

Lodge interior

Lodge interior

*****************************************************************************************
Resources:
Friends of Wakulla Springs website
Wakulla Springs Lodge website
Wakulla River Adventure – YouTube video
An 1880’s canoe trip around Florida – PDF

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Categories: Florida, Miscellaneous, Nature | 8 Comments

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8 thoughts on “A Florida Friday: Travelling back in time at Wakulla Springs

  1. Very interesting! I find it hard to believe I’ve not been there since I live in Central FL! I must do something about that! 🙂

    Like

  2. There are a number of treasures on the gulf side. It is welcoming to see parts of Florida that still remain relatively wild. And it is rewarding that there are people in Florida who are now fighting to return portions of the state to its earlier beauty. –Curt

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    • Hey, Curt! Loved your Mt. Rainier images. Talk about wild places!

      We’ve found plenty of natural treasures all over the state; lots of folks interested in preservation. The tourists tend to stick to Orlando & the beaches, and even transplants to the south of the state never take time to explore what northern FL has to offer. Perhaps that’s not a bad thing…

      Like

  3. Barbara Brodhead

    I really enjoyed this blog post. What an incredible natural wonder! You can find something amazing in every part of the country, and I enjoyed reading about this particular place. The pictures were great too.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Like

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