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Friday, April 04, 2008

White Sulphur Springs & Stephen Foster Culture Center

We've settled in White Springs, FL for the next few days. White Springs sits on the Suwannee River, the same river that Stephen Foster immortalized in his song, “Old Folks at Home,” or as most people know it, “Way Down Upon de Swanee Ribber.” There is a museum and park dedicated to Stephen Foster which we visited today.

First we stopped at the visitors' center to get some info on the area. While there was lots of information, I certainly was not impressed with the staff. We were never greeted nor asked if we needed any help. But, we found what we were looking for and left.

Located behind the visitors' center is White Sulphur Springs, fed by the Suwannee River, it was a popular retreat in the late 1800s and early 1900s for folks who wanted the healing benefits of the springs. The current structure was built sometime between 1903 and 1908 and consisted of treatments rooms, concessions and an elevator. While we were there, we met an elderly gentleman who used to live in the area and remembered the glory days of the Springs. Since he didn't appear to be 100 years old, I'm not sure just what he remembered himself or what he remembered being told. Either way, it was fun speaking with him and seeing the joy he was experiencing being back in his hometown.

Suwannee River feeds the springs

We then went on to the Stephen Foster Culture Center which began in 1950 as a museum to Stephen Foster and his music. Because of a folk festival that was first held in 1953, the museum grew into a park where folk arts and music are celebrated and demonstrated throughout the year. This weekend there was an antique tractor and engine show. There are also several buildings in which local crafters show their skills and creations such as quilts, jewelry, pottery, and even dulcimers!

In the museum there are several dioramas dedicated to the most recognized songs Foster wrote. They are quite lovely and, unfortunately, my pictures don't do them justice. Also found in the museum, along with several antique pianos, is the desk upon which Foster wrote “Old Folks at Home.” It was his brother's desk, but had been kept in the family until its donation to the museum. The original manuscript of the song is encased in glass on the desk.

Old Folks at Home
Camptown Races

Another focal point of the park is the 97-bell carillon that is found in the middle of the park. It is housed in a towering campanile that is 200 feet high and was completed in 1957. The carillon is the world's largest tubular carillon in the number of bells and it was installed in the tower in 1958. It took more than a year to build the set of bells which is made of 3 sets of 32 bells, plus one high G bell. Many of the more than 200 compositions that Foster wrote are played throughout the day and is a beautiful sound to hear.

Finally, the hot, humid weather drove us back to the RV. I sure wasn't prepared to go from a hint of spring last week in Alabama to summer in Florida! Yuck. I guess I shouldn't complain, though, considering lots of folks up north are still getting snow.

If the weather cooperates, we may take a jaunt into the town of White Springs. There are several other historic sites that may be interesting to check out. I'll let you know.

Until the next time . . .

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