White Springs offers the feel of old Florida

The Telford is the last remaining historic hotel in White Springs. Built in 1903, this 15,500-square-foot Georgian brick and river rock structure has survived the test of time.

JULIE GARRETT/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, January 28, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 27, 2005 at 10:28 p.m.
White Springs doesn't even know how cute it is. Unlike other touristy small towns packed with art galleries and trendy restaurants, White Springs is still largely undiscovered.
The big draw, of course, is White Springs' geography. It hugs a lovely spot along the upper Suwannee River, and it's within a stone's throw of Big Shoals, an extraordinary section of whitewater on the otherwise placid Suwannee. Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park - named one of the nation's top 10 heritage parks - is practically in the center of town.
"White Springs is a rural town with a population of about 800," says Martha Nelson, park services specialist for Stephen Foster. "It has its own unique character and personality, because it was one of the first resorts and spas in Florida. The locals are always welcoming to visitors."
Stephen Foster is holding its Craft Rendezvous Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. - a good-enough reason to get you on the road. But if you miss this weekend's festival, the town and its sights are worth the drive any weekend.
On Saturday, at the Stephen Foster park's Crafts Square, you'll see crafters from all over the state as they gather to demonstrate and sell their work, including baskets, beeswax candles, blacksmithing, gourd craft, pewter craft, pine-needle baskets, Russian eggs, spinning, stained glass, weaving and woodcraft, among others.
Check out the park's other charms, including a carillon tower and 10 exquisitely detailed dioramas illustrating the lyrics of composer Stephen Foster's best-loved songs. If you get hungry, visit the park café alongside its gift shop.
Anyone who has ever wished to a hike along the Florida Trail can sample one of the most beautiful sections of the Suwannee, which borders the park.
Stephen Foster just added five luxurious new cabins, in addition to campsites for tents and RVs. The cabins represent one stop on the new Suwannee River Canoe Trail.
"This will be a 250-mile water trail the whole length of the Suwannee River to the Gulf," says Nelson. A series of cabins and tent platforms will be interspersed along the Suwannee. "The point really is a public-private partnership. There are camping stations and outfitters all the way along the river, so that you can spend a week or two on the water."
You don't have to be on an extended river trip to rent the cabins; just come for the weekend. Each has two bedrooms and rents for $90 a night. The cabins sleep six, and include a full kitchen, a gas fireplace, wrap-around porches decked with rocking chairs and porch swings, and an outdoor picnic table and grill. The cabins are made homey with attractive furnishings way nicer than in any state park cabin I've visited in the past.
For a three-day Florida love fest, visit Stephen Foster over Memorial Day weekend for the annual Florida Folk Festival. This event features more than 250 performances and dozens of workshops centered around Florida music and culture. It's the oldest state folk festival in the United States.
During the folk festival, stages are set up throughout the park. Food vendors offer ethnic dishes, storytellers pass on their lore, artisans give craft demonstrations, and you can learn new dances in the dance tent. "It's like DisneyWorld for really cool people," one friend says. Just cheaper.
You can drive on up to Big Shoals Public Lands, just a few miles a way. Park your car and then take a short hike along the Suwannee to the shoals, the only Class III rapids in the state. Big Shoals offers 28 miles of trails for outdoor recreation with uncommonly beautiful vistas from atop riverside bluffs.
As you mosey around the town of White Springs, be sure to visit the Suwannee River Diner, a unique little restaurant serving country cookin'. It's catty-corner to the state's Nature and Heritage Tourism Center. Inside the diner, check out the mural ringing the dining room. It depicts the Suwannee River basin in all its seasonal glory.
Last weekend, Tom and Sue Matthews were eating Sunday brunch at the diner. The couple live in Canton, N.Y., half the year, and they spend the other half in Kelly's RV Park in White Springs. They say the diner's food is good, and they love the mural.
"We do a lot of walking on the trails here," says Sue.
"I think the mural's pretty accurate. You have to use your imagination a little bit," adds Tom.
Also "downtown," find The Telford, a chert-stone building that is one of the 14 original hotels in White Springs. The rest burned down in a series of fires. The Telford serves Sunday brunch, and its rooms rent for $65 and up. (There are two more B&Bs in town and a small hotel if you want to stay the night.) The weathered, gray facade of the Adams Country Store, est. 1865, is lovely in a nostalgic, wistful sort of way. For information about White Springs' history and architecture, find yourself a "White Springs Historic Walking Tour" brochure.
Next door to the country store is the storefront of the Suwannee Bicycle Association, a non-profit club. The association is a group of cyclists from all over North Florida who converge on this area to take advantage of its many recreational opportunities.
The group offers events that combine cycling and canoeing, and trail and road rides year-round. Their storefront is a nice place to hang out when you get off your bike.
"We have everyone from gonzo riders to old farts and weekend warriors," says Joy Taylor, the group's secretary. "Our group is very diverse. We have people in their 70s and 80s who just like to ride their bikes on the road and in the woods."
Janet Moses and Company's Art and Antiques shop opened in its current location in October. Artisans sell their works here and take turns staffing the store. The theme is primitives and antiques. Artist Janet Moses paints on glass windows; you'll see her work in the Suwannee River Diner and at the park café, too.
And lastly, if you want to rent a canoe or kayak and head out on the river, try American Canoe Adventures. You'll see Wendell Hannum's business on your right as you drive into town; you can't miss the boats. He offers trips of varying lengths down the Suwannee.
It just depends on how far you want to paddle.
Julie Garrett can be contacted at 374-5049 or e-mail to garretj@gvillesun.com.
The Florida Folk Festival at Stephen Foster State Folk Culture Center State Park is a three-day love fest celebrating the state's music and culture. It's held each year over Memorial Day weekend, and is the longest-running state folk festival in the nation (since 1953).
Craft Rendezvous is Saturday
  • What: Demonstrations of hand crafts and studio arts. Blacksmithing, pottery, stained glass, basket making, painting and weaving will be among the crafts showcased.
  • When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday
  • Where: Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park, U.S. 41, White Springs.
  • Cost: $4 entry fee to the park per carload; the event is free.
    For more information: Call 386-397-1920 or visit www.flordastateparks.org/stephenfoster.
    If you go to White Springs
  • Directions - White Springs is about 60 miles north of Gainesville. Go north on I-75 past Lake City to exit 439. Turn left onto County Road 136 and follow it straight into White Springs.
  • Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park - Call (386) 397-1920 or visit www.flordastateparks.org/stephenfoster. A Place in the Park Café and Gift Shop is located inside the park. Call (386) 397-1411.
  • American Canoe Adventures - Canoe and kayak rentals and sales; transportation to and from the Suwannee River. Call (386) 397-1309 or visit www.aca1.com.
  • Big Shoals Public Lands - Florida's only Class III rapids, 3,772 acres of publicly-owned land along the Suwannee; 28 miles of trails for outdoor recreation. Directions: From White Springs, go north on U.S. 41, and turn left onto Highway 135. Call (386) 397-2733 or www.flordastateparks.org/bigshoals.
  • Florida Folk Festival - Three-day festival over Labor Day weekend celebrates Florida's heritage. The festival is held at Stephen Foster; tickets are cheaper if purchased in advance. Call toll-free (877) 635-3655 or visit www.floridastateparks.org/folkfest/default.htm.
  • Janet Moses & Company, Art and Antiques - Artists, crafters and antique vendors sell their work. Call (386) 965-6388 or visit www.janetmoses.net.
  • State of Florida Nature and Heritage Tourism Center - Brochures and info on Florida's natural attractions and cultural sites, corner of C.R. 136 and U.S. 41 in White Springs; (386) 397-4461.
  • Suwannee Bicycle Association - Members ($25 annually) get the group's newsletter, discounts on trail and road bike rides, and have use of the group's storefront meeting space in White Springs. Call Joy Taylor at (904) 522-0437 for information, or visit www.suwanneebike.org, or e-mail to bikesba@aol.com.
  • Suwannee River Diner - Country cookin' and a dining-room-wide mural depicting the Suwannee River basin throughout the seasons; 16538 Spring St., (386) 397-1181.
  • Suwannee River Wilderness Trail - A 250-mile water trail along the Suwannee, all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Call (800) 868-9914 or visit www.SuwanneeRiver.com.
  • The Historic Telford Hotel Restaurant and Bed and Breakfast - Sunday brunch buffet ($8.95), and rooms for $65 a night; weekday buffets, $5.95. Call (386) 397-2000.
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