White Sulfur Springs originally was a sacred meeting ground for the Apalachee and Timucuan tribes. Later it became known as “Florida’s Original Tourist Destination.” With beliefs that the sulfuric water had medicinal powers, the opposing tribes set aside their conflicts to drink and bathe in the mineral water without fear of attacks.
After Elizabeth Sheffield purchase the property in 1835 along the Suwanee River, she discovered the spring. Smelling of rotten eggs, Mr. Sheffield claimed that upon drinking it, his nerves were calmed, his kidney troubles appeased, and his rheumatism was cured.
With their discovery, Sheffield built a hotel and bathhouse marketing it as a “cure-all” health spa. Arriving via the Suwannee River Ferry, guests looked for treatments from rashes to cancer. In order to accommodate the visitors, by the late nineteenth century, the town had fourteen luxury hotels and numerous boarding houses. Famous visitors included Teddy Roosevelt and Henry Ford.
With their success, the Sheffield’s upgraded the simple wooden bathhouse to a four-story building with dressing rooms, examination and treatment rooms, and a concession stand in 1908. The bathing pool was 20 x 30 feet, cut from solid rock and was surrounded by circular balconies. In order to keep the cold waters of the river from mixing with the spring water, there was a large concrete gate.
The popularity of the resort dwindled in the 1930s. In 1990 the spring, which once flowed at a rate of 47 million gallons a day, dried up. Even with occasional flooding from heavy rain, the sulfur waters are gone for good.
If you visit the area, you can view the old coquina bathhouse, still standing and a reminder of the good old days as Florida’s first tourist attraction. If the water level is low, you will be able to go into bathhouse ruins and look at the bathing pool.
Photo from the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory