August 12, 2020
The Suwannee River is well known by name because of Stephen Foster's famous song, "Old Folks at Home". It is mostly a mystery, however, to the majority of Floridians and tourists who have never visited it.
It is a river that rises in the Okeefenokee Swamp of south Georgia and meanders more than 238 miles southward through mostly rural Florida farmlands and conservation areas. 206 of those miles are in Florida.
The flow of the river is replenished along its way by numerous fresh water springs. The river's mouth is just south of the fishing village of Suwanee on the Gulf of Mexico.
The river has been part of Florida's history since the early days, and was the location of Florida's first tourist attraction (White Springs) in the 1830s.
It also played an important strategic role in the U.S. Civil War with the Battle of Olustee fought near the junction of the Suwannee and Withlacoochee Rivers.
Here are some Florida places that have been part of that history. I've arranged them in the same order as you would see them if you were on a riverboat cruising downstream from White Springs near the Georgia border to the Gulf of Mexico at Suwannee.
WHITE SPRINGS was perhaps Florida's first tourist attraction in the 1830s because of the alleged restorative powers of the sulphur springs. Click on the photo for more information.
ELLAVILLE is a ghost town just downstream of where the Withlacoochee River enters the Suwannee. It once boasted 1,000 residents but now has only a few scattered homes near Suwannee River State Park. The village was the home of former Florida Governor George Drew; the mansion burned down in 1970. When you cross the river on US-90 between Live Oak and Lee you will be in Ellaville
DOWLING PARK is a small town on the Suwannee River. It was named for the Dowling family who owned a turpentine camp. The Dowlings gave land to the Advent Church and the town is still home to Advent Christian Village, a retirement center and summer youth camp.
BRANFORD is a village of about 700 people on a bend of the river at the intersection of US-129 and US-27. Years ago it was a thriving place with a large saw mill. Today it is a quiet place to rest and enjoy the Suwanee River. Click on the photo for more information.
BOB'S RIVER PLACE is in the country south of Branford on the Suwannee River. Bob was an elderly man who owned property on the river and wanted to create a kind of swimming hole he enjoyed as a boy. Now kids of all ages enjoy his creation.
OLD TOWN is an unincorporated community on the west side of the Suwannee River on U.S. Highway 98 where it intersects with SE 349 Avenue. It is a rural town with a lot of open space, scattered homes, a Dollar General, and a Hardee's restaurant. Old Town was the retirement home of Guy Louis Gabaldon, a famous United States Marine. When he was 18 years old he convinced 1,300 Japanese soldiers and civilians to surrender during the battles of Saipan and Tinian islands in World War Two.
FANNING SPRINGS is on the south bank of the Suwannee River at US-19 and US-98. The town was named for Col. Alexander C. W. Fanning of the U.S. Army during the Seminole Wars. Old Town is on the other side of the river. The springs and a big wooden dance pavillion attracted visitors in the old days and the springs still do today.
FOWLERS BLUFF is an unincorporated residential community not far north of the mouth of the Suwannee River. The nearest city is Chiefland, about 15 miles north. A local lodging and dining institution is Treasure Camp. It has cabins for vacation stays and a popular restaurant overlooking the river.
SUWANNEE is a small fishing village at the mouth of the Suwannee River where it meets the Gulf of Mexico. Click on the photo for more information.