White Sulphur Spring that is the site of the Town of White Springs, has drawn people to the bend in the Suwannee River for centuries. Artifacts from Paleo-Indians and Timucuans are commonly found there, with shell middens and burial mounds close by.
First incorporated as Jackson Springs in 1831 by a group of businessmen who saw the spring and a good site for a ferry as moneymaking opportunities. William B. Hooker (who later became a cattle baron in Tampa), James T. Hooker, James D. Prevatt, Joseph Bryant and John Lee obtained the incorporation papers
By 1832 the healing powers of the waters surrounded with rocks encrusted with crystals of sulfur was being celebrated as far away as Philadelphia. CHB Collins established a ferry just up river from the spring and Florida’s first tourist destination was in business.
Bryant Sheffield, who took over the ferry in 1836, built a log hotel and built a log springhouse at Upper Mineral Springs, as it was then known. From there, the resort grew. During the Civil War,
Confederates found refuge from encroaching Union troops in the inland town. The Broward family, including the future governor Florida, Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, moved from Fernandina to a plantation outside town and called it Rebel’s Refuge.
Wight and Powell, a prosperous mercantile business in Georgia, bought the spring property known as White Suphur Springs from the Sheffields in 1882 and laid out city lots. They sold to enterprising folks to establish retail stores, suppliers for the Sea Island cotton planters in the surrounding area and services for the burgeoning health and pleasure resort centered on the spring. The settlement incorporated in 1885 as White Springs.
Soon there were large hotels, boarding houses, cotton buyers and a gin, fashionable clothing and hat shops, a college for teachers and all manner of entertainment of the day including skating, lawn tennis and ballroom dancing. Stagecoaches gave way to railroad travel and the automobile replaced that.
The popularity of mineral springs as health resorts faded in the 1930s but by 1950 the Stephen Foster Memorial Museum, surrounded by lush formal gardens and later a carillon containing the world’s largest set of tubular bells, which honors the author of the world-renowned song of the Suwannee River, “Old Folks at Home”, continued the tourist trade.
Modern White Springs looks remarkably like it did in the 1950s. The frame general store, Adams Brothers, still stands alongside the scale used to weigh cotton. Hosting the Florida Folk Festival for 60 years has earned White Springs a reputation as a folk arts center. Bicycle trails abound in the serene woods and other natural areas along the Suwannee. Trophy fishing is available just outside town. The Florida Trail passes through the town attracting hikers and the Suwannee River is great for canoeing.