Tales From The Camping House

Tales From The Camping House

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Way Down Upon The Suwanee River - Stephen Foster State Park

We left Henderson Beach State Park on Friday to make the 257 mile drive to White Springs, Florida.

For us, that is a really long drive.  We left at 9, but forgot we would be switching to the Eastern Time Zone and would lose an hour.

We arrived at the Stephen Foster Cultural Center State Park around 4:30 making it before the office closed at 5:00.  We checked in and proceeded to our campsite.  This is another one of Florida's beautiful state parks.

We found our campsite and Jim got us back in to our spot.  There are also many pull throughs here that are just as spacious as this site.

Here we are tucked into our spot for the next three nights.

We spent Saturday morning exploring the park. There was a 70% chance of rain, but we wanted to see as much as we could. The center opened in 1950 to honor the memory of Stephen Foster, America's composer who wrote "Old Folks at Home" or as many people know it as "Way Down Upon The Swanee River",  Florida's state song.  An interesting tidbit we learned was as Stephen Foster was writing the song he needed a two syllable name of a river to go in it.  His brother pulled down an atlas and found the Suwannee River and asked about that one.  Foster shortened it to Swannee and a song was born beginning Florida's tourism as people would travel there to see the river.  Stephen Foster never visited Florida to see the original river. 

The centerpiece of the park is the 97 bell carillon tower which plays Stephen Foster's music throughout the day.  There is a chime every quarter hour and a bell performance at 10, 11, 2, and 4.  It was quite lovely to hear the chiming throughout the day.  I think the last chime was at 6 o'clock in the evening.

We rode our bikes throughout the park.  There is an extensive trail system and roads that makes bike riding easy.

We visited Craft Square which contained these little houses where local artisans demonstrated their crafts of spinning, weaving, leathermaking, pottery, and blacksmithing.  Everyone was very friendly and willing to share about their craft.

We also made a stop at the Suwannee River.  This is a put in point for canoes.  We won't have time to do it this time, but we will be back here in March and hope to get our kayak wet then.

We went back to the fiver for lunch and the rain hit.  In fact, our phones began a siren like sound signaling a tornado warning.  We had just been in a flood and didn't want to risk our lives.  We pulled in the slides, picked up the dogs, and drove the car over to a bathhouse to wait it out there.  Luckily, it was just heavy rain and winds.

Sunday just happened to be Stephen Foster Day in the park.  There would be a performance in the carillon at 2.

We headed over to the museum built in 1950 located in this beautiful home for a visit.  There are 8 wonderfully constructed dioramas with moving pieces. Each one took over 1500 man hours to construct.  The workmanship is exquisite, so many details, that you see something different each time you look at one.  There were also items that belonged to the Foster family,  as well as paintings and some unique pianos.

 The area had always contained a sulphur springs which was first visited by the Indians.  In 1903, the springs were enclosed by concrete walls that included multiple water gates to prevent water from flowing in during floods.  A four story bathhouse was constructed around the springs since many people thought there were healing qualities in the water and flocked to springs around the country.  By the 1930's the popularity of the resort had faded.

 A fire in the 1970's destroyed most of the bathhouse. Today, only the walls with the gates in the middle and part of the walkway survive.

Here's a picture of the bathhouse in the height of its popularity.

At 2, we went to the carillon for the afternoon performance held in honor of Stephen Foster Day.  There was a lady who played the carillon.  There are only a few people who have the ability to play this and we were really lucky to be able to see this performance.

There was also a dulcimer performance and the two young people who had won the Stephen Foster and Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair awards sang several of Stephen Foster's songs.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time here.  Most people think of the beaches and Disney World when they think of Florida, but it was really great to see another part of this state.


  1. Excellent blog. We've added Stephen Foster Cultural Center State Park to our bucket list.

    What's with you guys and your phone sirens? Man, that's scary after what you just endured in October!

  2. Thanks, Susan! I know you and Bob would love this park.