Suwannee River - Pathway to Florida History
Perhaps you are old enough or historically in tune with the old “Swanee” River song (also known as Old Folks at Home) written back in 1851, but performed and made famous by Bing Crosby in the early 1950s. Crosby’s rendition brings visions of people relaxing along the banks of a beautiful wandering river. Those visions are not only true, but can be recreated today!
Starting in the Okefenokee Swamp in southern Georgia there is a relatively small river with a mind of its own that flows into Florida between Columbia and Hamilton counties as the border between them. Named the Suwannee River, there are few rivers in Florida that have greater name recognition and historical significance.
The Suwannee trickles into Florida as a “blackwater” river and gains strength as it is fed by smaller tributaries and springs until it empties into the Gulf of Mexico a couple hundred miles southwest of its origins.
During the Civil War, the Suwannee was a major way of moving supplies for the Confederacy. The Union tried to stop the flow of goods without success even at the very end of the war. In the late 1800s the river had paddle wheel boats taking tourists to the various springs along the river’s basin and selling goods to settlers along the way.
Following the Suwannee, by kayak or car, is a fun way to see some of Florida’s natural magnificence as you travel. The place to start your Suwannee adventure if you are a kayaker is the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail. The state of Florida, private campgrounds and boat launching facilities have cooperated to document places to accommodate kayaks and canoes. See the map here from end to end of the trail and the Suwannee.
Below are some places to spend a little extra time to enjoy the sights and history of the area.
White Springs, Florida – The Suwannee runs through White Springs, which was once a bustling tourist attraction because of the now dry springs that once was believed to have healing powers. The town has architecture from the 1800s and remnants of a glorious past. History lives here. White Springs is also the home of the Stephen Foster Folk Cultural Center. Foster was the famous 19th-century songwriter who wrote the lyrics, “Way down upon the Suwannee River…” among many other familiar tunes.
Suwannee River State Park – just outside the town of Live Oak in Suwannee County is one of Florida’s most scenic state parks. Great for kayaking, hiking and watching the “Swanee” River!
Lafayette Blue Springs State Park – this is another gem in Florida’s state park system. Located near Mayo, Florida in Lafayette County. This part of the river was alive with steamboats after the Civil War. Preachers, peddlers and tourists rode together.
Troy Springs State Park – A few miles south of Lafayette Springs is a spectacular 70 foot deep spring called Troy Springs. This is the presumed location of a Civil War era steamboat named Madison that was scuttled in 1863. The Suwannee has several steamboats sunken in the river that divers often explore the remnants.
Fanning Springs State Park – As the Suwannee twists and turns southwestward, it becomes wider as the collection of other river tributaries adds to the flow. Fanning Springs State Park is known for the beautiful bluish-green clear water flowing at a rate of 65 million gallons per day from the spring. For those who like primitive camping and hiking, there is plenty of that available here. For photographers, there are few better places to get some shots of the wildlife and growth around the springs.
For thousands of years native Americans visiting this area due to the abundance of water and wildlife for survival. Fanning is located in the northwest corner of Levy County very close to the borders of both Dixie County and Gilcrest County.
As the Suwannee gains body and strength it becomes more navigable. The river empties into the Gulf of Mexico at an appropriately named fishing village called Suwannee. The area becomes a wide marshland perfect for flats fishing for redfish, snook and trout. The town of Suwannee offers fishermen both inshore and offshore opportunities.
Our voyage has ended, but not before traipsing along pathways our forefathers used for survival, economic gain and travel. The Suwannee is famous worldwide, but few people see the real beauty of the Suwannee River basin unless they follow the river’s banks. From northeast Florida to the middle of the state, astounding beauty and Mother Nature’s best creations come to life along the Suwannee River.