Billed as “Florida’s Original Tourist Destination,” White Sulfur Springs was originally a sacred meeting ground for the Apalachee and Timucuan tribes. Believing that the sulfuric water had medicinal powers, the opposing tribes agreed to set aside their conflicts to drink and bathe in the mineral water without fear of attacks.
In 1835, after purchasing land along the Suwanee River, Bryant and Elizabeth Sheffield discovered the spring. Despite the fact that the sulfur-laden spring water stunk of rotten eggs, Mr. Sheffield claimed that upon drinking it his nerves were calmed, his kidney troubles appeased, and his rheumatism cured.
The Sheffields built a hotel and a bathhouse and marketed the White Sulfur Springs as a cure-all health spa. Guests seeking treatment for everything from rashes to cancer arrived via the Suwannee River ferry. By the late 19th century the town had 14 luxury hotels and numerous boarding houses to accommodate the visitors, including some famous visitors such as Teddy Roosevelt and Henry Ford.
In 1908, the simple wooden bathhouse was upgraded to a four-story building with dressing rooms, examination and treatment rooms, and a concession stand. The circular balconies surrounded a 20 x 30-foot bathing pool cut from solid rock, where the waters maintained a temperature of 72˚F. A large concrete gate kept the cold waters of the river from mixing with the spring water.
By the 1930s, the popularity of the resort had dwindled. The spring, which once flowed at a rate of about 47 million gallons a day, dried up in 1990. Despite infrequent flooding from heavy rain, it appears the sulfur waters are gone for good. Visitors to the area today can view the ruins of the old coquina bathhouse, which still stands as a reminder of White Springs’ days as Florida’s first tourist attraction.
Know Before You Go
Located on the river side of US 41 in the town of White Springs, Florida, near the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park. If the water level is low, you can go into the bathhouse ruins to look at the bathing pool. Use caution if water levels are high, and view the spring from the top of the structure.