Festival of Lights and the Suwannee River

I love viewing Christmas Lights and one of my favorite displays is at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center in White Springs, Florida. We first stumbled upon the festival a few years ago when we stayed at the campground on our way south. This December we met friends there for a few days.

All the buildings were decorated for the holidays. Christmas music from the Carillon tower could be heard all around the park several times a day.

20181212-Museum-(1)
Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center Museum

During the days we enjoyed exploring in and around the park. The weather was chilly and the Suwannee River was high.

20181211-Stephen-Foster-(8)
Suwannee River in White Springs, FL

We were able to explore the historic Spring House on the Suwannee River early in the week before the river level became too high to reach it.

20181211-Stephen-Foster-(10)
Spring House in White Springs, FL

The Suwannee River level kept rising all week. By the end of the week the Spring House was surrounded by water. The photos below illustrate just how high he river rose. On the left is the way it looked when we were there in February earlier this year, and on the right is the way it looked at the end of our stay in December.

One day we enjoyed a picnic under the oak trees after walking along a trail beside the river in Big Shoals State Park. The river was swift and so high we couldn’t see the shoals.

20181212-Big-Shoals-(3)
Big Shoals trail on the Suwannee River

One afternoon we stopped at the Carillon Tower to hear Jan play her Mountain Dulcimer and play the Steinway Grand Piano that was once owned by Andrew Carnegie. I’ve never heard a piano that sounded so beautiful.

20181213-White-Springs-(21)
This Steinway Grand Piano in the Carillon Tower was once owned by Andrew Carnegie

White Springs was once a thriving tourist destination with several hotels. A fire in 1911 destroyed all the hotels except for the Telford which is still standing. We took a walking tour of downtown White Springs and enjoyed seeing the historic buildings.

At night, the park came to life with the Christmas light displays.

We had a great week hanging out with our friends and exploring the park and White Springs.

I posted about our 2016 visit to the park at Way down upon the Suwanee River and our February, 2018 visit at Spring Flowers and the Suwannee River

Spring Flowers and the Suwannee River

It’s been two years since our last visit to Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in White Springs. During that stay we did a lot of exploring around the park, the town of White Springs, and nearby Big Shoals State Park. I posted about those adventures at  Way Down upon the Suwannee River.

We returned to the park this February. The carillon tower is a focal point in the park and one of my favorite things about being there is hearing the the bells from the carillon chime on the quarter hour and hearing Stephen Foster’s music throughout the day.  Unfortunately, the carillon wasn’t working this year.

20180225Stephen-Foster-Folk-Culture-Center-(37)
The carillon at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center

We didn’t visit the museum on this trip but there are interesting exhibits about Stephen Foster and his many songs.

20180226Stephen-Foster-Morning-(8)
Stephen Foster Museum

Even though it was only February there were some beautiful spring blooms. Gotta love Florida!

One day we took a drive to Suwanee River State Park near Live Oak to check it out. High on the banks above the Suwanee River, we enjoyed a walk on an easy trail to the confluence of the Suwanee and Withlacoochee Rivers. Beside the trail were relics from riverboats that once traveled up and down the river.

We enjoyed wonderful views from an overlook at the confluence of the two rivers.

20180226Suwanee-River-SP-(12)
Confluence of Suwanee and Withlacoochee Rivers
20180226Suwanee-River-SP-(17)
Bridges over the Suwanee River
20180226Suwanee-River-SP-(14)
Withlacoochee River

After our walk we sat on a wooden swing overlooking the Suwanee River enjoying a picnic lunch. Doesn’t get much better than that.

Way Down Upon the Suwanee River

Stephen Foster Museum

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

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.

Spring House at White Springs, Florida
Spring House at White Springs, Florida
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.