June 21, 2021
Silver Springs, Florida is a community on the east side of Ocala along State Road 40. It is the location of Silver Springs State Park.
The park is the successor and current operator of the very popular privately owned tourist attraction Silver Springs.
The attraction started becoming popular with tourists shortly after the Civil War and began using glass bottomed boats in 1878.
Other popular tourist attractions no longer in the community include Six Gun Territory and Wild Waters.
Silver Springs is one of Florida's oldest tourist attractions. It was founded in 1852.
Even before the pioneer settlers came to the area, the Timucuan Indians were living in the area they called Ocali, and enjoying the pure clear artesian waters of the springs.
The Timucuan mostly disappeared after the era of the Spanish ownership of Florida. They were succeeded and absorbed in later years by the Seminoles.
Silver Springs discharges into the Silver River which flows to the St. Johns River.
This opened up the area to Jacksonville and the rest of the world.
Tourists began to flock to the springs to enjoy the climate and the pure crystal clear water in the years after the U.S. Civil War.
The popularity increased even more as the glass bottom boat was invented in 1878.
Tourists could look through a glass viewing box in the bottom of a dugout canoe and see the clear underwater world with its natural creatures.
Today, all of the glass bottom boats at Silver Springs are named after leaders of the Seminole tribe.
Over the following years, the boats got bigger, hotels were built and in those pre-Disney days prior to 1971 the attraction thrived.
In the early 1930s, Ross Allen, a snake expert, founded the Silver Springs Reptile Institute.
He was skilled in milking the venom from the fangs of rattlesnakes and other snakes; the venom was use as antidote for snake bites and research.
Not long after Ross Allen came on the scene, the operator of the Jungle Cruise boat ride decided to put a small colony of rhesus monkeys on a nearby island in the Silver River.
The monkeys quickly escaped and settled all along the river. Their descendants are still living in the wild even today.
Six Tarzan movies, starring Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller, were filmed at Silver Springs in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
Later on in the late 1950s and early 1960s, more than 100 episodes of "Sea Hunt", starring Lloyd Bridges as Mike Nelsen, were filmed at Silver Springs.
In the 1960s the attraction was expanded by 3,900 newly acquired acres.
In 1972 Silver Springs was registered as a Natural Landmark by the U.S. Department of Interior and the National Park Service.
In the days of Florida racial segregation, a separate tourist attraction named Paradise Park was operated by the same management about one mile away.
The park featured attractions similar to Silver Springs such as a petting zoo and glass bottom boats. It is estimated about 100,000 people a year visited Paradise Park.
The park operated from 1949 to 1969. It closed soon after Silver Springs became desegregated. Read this Wikipedia article about Paradise Park.
In the 1970s Wild Waters was opened; it was a seasonal water park. There was also a petting zoo, a Jeep safari, and a downriver attraction called "Lost River Voyage".
A Don Garlits antique and race car museum opened, along with a "White Alligator Exhibit".
Although the public enjoyed these new features within the Silver Springs attraction, it did not do well enough to survive.
September 15, 2013 was the last day of operation for Silver Springs as a private entity. It closed its doors after almost 135 years as one of Florida's most popular attractions.
Starting on October 1, 2013, Silver Springs began operating as part of Silver Springs State Park.
The park still features glass bottom boat tours just like the old days. You can also rent kayaks and tour the five mile long Silver River.
It is a full service park with camping, hiking, shopping, and dining. You can also visit a museum and Florida Cracker village.