Stephen Foster Museum

Way Down Upon the Suwanee River

Way down upon de Swanee Ribber,
Far, far away,
Dere’s wha my heart is turning ebber,
Dere’s wha de old folks stay

Florida State Song, “Old Folks at Home” by Stephen Foster, 1851

Carillon at Stephen Foster Folk Cultural Center
Carillon at Stephen Foster Folk Cultural Center

One our favorite Florida State Parks, we have camped here numerous times through the years. Located on the banks of the Suwanee River, the park is named for American compser Stephen Foster and features a museum with exhibits about some of his most famous songs, a 97-bell carillon, a craft square with demonstrations and a gift shop, and a historic Spring House which once brought many tourists into the town of White Springs.

The Stephen Foster Museum houses many exhibits including several dioramas representing some of his most famous songs. Two of his songs have been adapted as state songs – “Old Folks at Home” is the state song of Florida, and “My Old Kentucky Home” is the state song of Kentucky. You may recognize some of his other songs such as “Oh! Susanna”, “Beautiful Dreamer” and “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair.”

According to The Center for American Music at the University of Pittsburgh, “Old Folks at Home” was written for a minstrel show and became the most popular song ever published at that time. Stephen Foster was never in Florida and never saw the Suwanee River. In his original draft of the song he used the name Pedee River but later changed it to Suwanee.

Diorama of "Old Folks at Home"
Diorama of “Old Folks at Home”

The road through the state park winds around the museum and carillon with ancient Live Oak trees covered with Spanish Moss all through the park. The campground is surrounded by pine forest with miles of hiking and biking trails. We love hearing the bells of the Carillon as it chimes on the quarter hour and plays Stephen Foster’s music throughout the day.

Live Oaks with Spanish Moss
Live Oaks with Spanish Moss
Spring House at White Springs, Florida
Spring House at White Springs, Florida

On the banks of the Suwanee River sits a Spring House which brought many tourists into the town of White Springs in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. An interpretive sign at the spring house calls it “Florida’s Original Tourist Destination”. The waters from the sulphur springs were thought to have healing powers and people flocked to the town of White Springs for the cure.

Florida's Original Tourist Destination
Florida’s Original Tourist Destination
Swimming Pool at the Spring House
Swimming Pool at the Spring House
Spring House at White Springs, Florida
Spring House at White Springs, Florida
Cypress Trees on the banks of the Suwanee River
Cypress Trees on the banks of the Suwanee River
Azaleas blooming in White Springs, Florida
Azaleas blooming in White Springs, Florida

 

Spring flowers were blooming all around the park and in the town of White Springs.

Flowering Dogwood in White Springs, Florida
Flowering Dogwood in White Springs, Florida

We drove to nearby Big Shoals State Park do a little geocaching and to hike along the Suwanee River. Our destination was an overlook on a bluff high above the Suwanee River to see Florida’s only Class III White Water Rapids.

Big Shoals Trail along the Suwanee River
Big Shoals Trail along the Suwanee River
Big Shoals on the Suwanee River
Big Shoals on the Suwanee River

Henry found the geocache and when he opened the container he found this little critter inside.

A surprise visitor in the geocache
A surprise visitor in the geocache

Several years ago during one of our stays at the park we had a delightful lunch at the historic Telford Hotel in White Springs. In one room of the hotel were old hotel registers with signatures of some of the famous visitors to the hotel including Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft in 1913. I dug out this photo of the register I took that day and you can see their signatures are the last ones on the page.

Telford Hotel Registery from 1913
Telford Hotel Register from 1913

Sadly, the hotel is now closed and the building for sale.

Telford Hotel in White Springs, Florida
Telford Hotel in White Springs, Florida

My review of Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park can be found on Campendium.

13 thoughts on “Way Down Upon the Suwanee River”

  1. I love the Carillon and the sulfur springs. I always enjoy seeing old spa areas, with ornate bathing pavilions and lovely hotels (a shame that gorgeous hotel is closed). Many, many years ago, when I was about 5, my grandparents took us to a sulfur springs in Florida–probably not this one, but one nearer to Tampa. It was still in full use. I remember lots of old people slathered with mud (we did the mud baths too, a kid’s dream) and the intense rotten-egg sulfur smell.

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  2. What a lovely place, especially with the dogwoods blooming. I so love the parks with a lot of history on display, and this is a beauty! Thanks for the tour. 😉

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  3. Thank you for the great post:)) I feel as if I’ve been on vacation and even met your lil visitor:) Have a wonderful time! So great that your able to explore and have make great memories:))))

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  4. What an interesting and historic park. I just love the cypress trees, so different from anything you would see here.

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