Thursday, September 10, 2015

Bottled Spring Water and the Mouse: Florida's New Faux Spring

After the Civil War, tourists from northern states began flocking to Florida via newly-constructed railroads systems and steamboats. The tropical paradise they visited was full of natural wonders and the exotic flora and fauna was mysterious and untamed. Soon visitors to this new Eden began discovering the state's many beautiful artesian springs. Modern facilities were created so guests could stay and take the waters, a centuries-old practice in Europe where it was believed almost any ailment could be cured by soaking in or drinking mineral water. Green Cove, Suwannee, and Magnolia Springs were three of the best known spring-based health spas with elaborate resort complexes.

The notion of healthful spring water in Florida was so powerful that bottled water from the springs became a commodity with many springs bottling and shipping water to other parts of the country. The evidence of water bottling at Florida springs during this era can still be found today. Here are just a few examples of Florida springs that were used for bottled drinking water:

Hampton Springs Water, Hampton Springs (near Perry)
This remarkable product claimed to cure "indigestion, rheumatism, dyspepsia, stomach and liver troubles, and skin disease." Today Hampton Springs is a Taylor County park.

Postcard from the State Archives of Florida

The spring pool at Hampton Springs today

Magnesia Springs, Hawthorne
Water bottled at this spring near Gainesville was sold to Camp Blanding for 50 cents for a five gallon jug. The spring is now privately owned, although there has been some recent discussion suggesting it be restored as a public facility again.

Read more about Magnesia Springs here.

Orange City Water from Volusia Blue Spring
According to the Orange City website, Orange City Water earned the “highest award that the world can give for its water at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition." They also claimed that "John D. Rockefeller, Sr. had Orange City water sent to him wherever he traveled, and even used it for bathing."

From the State Archives of Florida

From the State Archives of Florida

From the State Archives of Florida

Espiritu Water from Espiritu Santo Springs, Safety Harbor
Historian J. Michael Francis recently confirmed the historical inaccuracy of the account on the historical marker in front of the Safety Harbor Spa that states Hernando De Soto thought he "discovered the fountain of youth sought by Ponce de León" when he found these springs he dubbed "Espiritu Santo Springs." Despite the falsehood, few springs have the longevity of human history as these springs in Safety Harbor, and it is one of three springs in the state where one can still take the waters for therapeutic purposes.  I believe the water is still available for drinking purposes at the spa today.

Safety Harbor bottling facilities. Photo by the Burgert Bros.
From the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System.

Deerfoot Mineral Spring, DeLand
I recently stumbled across this blog account: "Around 1890, DeLand entrepreneur J.B. Taylor decided to tap the spring and sell the water under the Deerfoot Water Company name. His company first marketed the water for sale as a medicinal supplement. Later on, the paddle boats used it as their water source. Mr. Taylor later installed a 100-foot well that, according to the USGS’s 1913 publication Geology and Ground Waters of Florida  yielded a sulphur water also believed to have medicinal properties."


Purity Springs, Tampa
I first learned of Purity Springs from this Tampania blog and have visited the site of the Tampa area water bottling plant several times. This small spring is now an oasis of calm near the chaos of urban Tampa.

Men standing by delivery trucks situated in front of the bottling department
of the Purity Springs Water Company, water tower in upper right corner:
Tampa, 1928. From the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System.

Fenholloway Sulphur Water
From Joe Dunn’s ‎Florida Trailblazer Facebook page:
“Found these photos while researching the old town of Fenholloway in Taylor County. One of the things it was noted for was the mineral springs there. In the early 1920's the Fenholloway water was sold locally from a pick-up truck. The business later expanded and trucks delivered the water all over North Florida and South Georgia. The water was pumped from the springs, bottled and transported to Live Oak, Mayo, Cross City, Greenville and other cities in the area. Sometime in the late 1930's to the 1940's the spring dried up due to groundwater pumping. After that the mineral water had to imported then the business closed sometime in the 1950's.”



Bottled Water in Florida today

The popularity of bottled water in the 21st century has led to a renaissance of the water-bottling industry in Florida. Many major brands fill plastic water bottles with ancient water from the Floridan Aquifer according to journalist Cynthia Barnett in her book Mirage: Florida and the Vanishing Water of the Eastern U.S. "Three of of the largest water-bottling companies in the world pump or buy their product from the Suwannee District" states Barnett about the region that is the heart of Florida's spring country. With springs across Florida facing an uncertain future due to over pumping and pollution, many environmentalists bristle knowing that water that would ordinarily bubble up in a spring now often ends up in a plastic bottle to be shipped out of the state.  Although Barnett points out the amount of water withdrawn by water bottlers is small compared to the hundred of millions of gallons used by industrial and agricultural interests in the state, she also makes the point that the state's water regulators "simply do not understand the overall impact the water bottling industry has on Florida."

Florida's Newest Spring

I was working in downtown Orlando at the Church Street Station entertainment complex when Disney opened its own nighttime entertainment destination known as Pleasure Island. While Church Street was Bob Snow's singular vision, merging mostly Victorian decor into nostalgic showrooms, Pleasure Island was a fictitious warehouse district with state-of-the-art nightclubs and bars sprinkled with Disney magic pixie dust. Eventually the luster wore off and Pleasure Island's unique venues like the Adventurer's Club and Mannequins Dance Palace closed.

In 2013, Disney began construction on a new incarnation of the Pleasure Island/Downtown Disney area known as Disney Springs. According to an article in the Orlando Sentinel, the complex will have the "look of an early 20th century Florida town" and renderings showed design elements that reflected the era of Florida’s spring water bottling history. Included was a "permanent fixture" in the Downtown Disney skyline, the Springs Bottling Co. Marquee.

My initial reaction to seeing the renderings was mixed. On the one hand, as a lover of Florida history, I'm intrigued by the idea that Disney would chose to pay homage to this romantic era in our state's history when travelers took long journeys in train cars to stay in remarkable Guilded Age hotels and take the waters. But as someone who cares deeply about the future of Florida's springs, I also hoped if Disney was creating a fake spring environment, that they might take the opportunity to educate their millions of visitors about our state's real springs, which are threatened by the explosive growth of Florida. I was not the only one who felt that Disney's choice for theming lacked sensitivity and several well-known environmentalists expressed disappointment as well.

Photo of the back of the Springs Bottling marquee via the Orlando Sentinel.

I had this letter printed in the Orlando Sentinel editorial page:
Disney’s teachable moment
As a Floridian who cares deeply about our state’s springs, I have mixed feelings about the new Disney Springs development. 
From a historical perspective, I appreciate how the company is paying homage to a fascinating era in our state’s past, when springs helped hasten the development of the state, offering a resource that could be bottled and sold. Murals on the site for bottled mineral water echo real vintage advertisements for bottled spring water from both nearby Wekiwa and Blue springs. 
However, I am disappointed that the designers of Disney Springs seem to be ignoring that water withdrawal from the Floridan Aquifer is a sore subject for environmentalists. As the Central Florida Water Initiative looks for new ways to quench the thirst of our region without overtapping our maxed-out aquifer, perhaps a building with giant letters at the top stating “springs bottling plant” is not a good idea. An architectural rendering of this was shown in a photo gallery on the Sentinel website. 
According to the Disney website, the top priority in the company’s environmental policy is to “improve water and energy efficiencies.” My hope is that Disney will take advantage of the huge volume of tourists streaming through its gates to create awareness of the water challenges facing the region. I would love to see interpretive signage at Disney Springs created to educate the public about the geology and ecology of Florida’s springs. It’s a teachable moment. 
Rick Kilby Orlando

My visit to Disney Springs

Eventually curiosity won out and I had to see Disney Springs for myself, despite the fact that much of it is still under construction. I was pleased to find ample, free parking as a new parking garage had been completed since my last visit. Many of the buildings in the Downtown Disney area have remain unchanged and it was not until I crossed over the bridge past a construction area that I noticed newly constructed buildings. There were several structures that are clearly an homage to the architecture of the early 19th century. Much of what I saw, including the impressive Boathouse Restaurant, reminded me of buildings created by the St. Joe Corporation in their panhandle projects like WaterColor and WaterSound. The same seaside visual vocabulary I've seen used by New Urbanist architects along the Gulf of Mexico marks the waterfront area. Ironically, one of the yet-to-be completed buildings bears a strong resemblance to Orlando's historic train depot, where my office was located when I worked at Church Street Station.

Disney Springs building,  partially completed.
Detail of the very similar Orlando historic railroad depot.

While I was aggravated trying to negotiate through the Labor Day crowds I had several distinct impressions. Disney has always done nostalgia well, and Disney Springs is no exception. Like the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, they have been able to channel the spirit of another era. But it is still largely a retail and and dining area, and in my opinion the Church Street Station complex was superior in its attention to detail and authentic artifacts and antiques. I still have mixed feelings about the complex, but I hope to return when Disney Springs is complete. When I do, I'll be looking hopefully for an interpretive display with verbiage about Florida's real springs.

The Boathouse Restaurant has a fleet of several "Amphicars" available for "swims."

Propellers are located just beneath the tail fins. "Swims" go for $75 per person.

Amphicar just beyond a few of the Boathouse's vintage motorboats.

One of the many spectacular watercraft on display.

While a bit pricey, the atmosphere of the Boathouse was terrific.

These whimsical renderings bear little resemblance to an actual Florida spring.

Here's my hint to Disney for springs signage, illustration by Dawn Schreiner.
Learn more about what you can do for our springs here.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Freedom at Fifty: the Power of Place

I was excited to embark on my 5th Annual Freedom Ride, a tradition in which I enjoy the freedom of riding my bike with no agenda other than taking photos of whatever strikes my fancy. My odyssey began at an industrial area between the newly renovated Orlando Train Station and I-4, an area normally too busy to ride a bike. On this day, however it was like a ghost town so I felt free to ride around and investigate the textures and colors created by the processes of manufacturing and recycling.

Looking for the red, white, and blue at a recycling plant.

I remembered that nearby Kuhl Street intersected Gore and headed in that direction because the original route of the Dixie Highway through Orlando followed Kuhl Avenue briefly before rejoining Orange Avenue further south. The Dixie Highway was a system of roads that connected the South to the Midwest in the early days of the automobile, before state and federal roads used a numbering system to identify their routes. The Western alignment of the Dixie Highway went from Chicago to Miami, going north and south through Orlando, mostly by way of Edgewater Drive and Orange Avenue. I have been been working with the Polk County History Center on an exhibit commemorating the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Dixie Highway Association, so I've been driving as much of the original road as possible. I was thrilled to find the short stretch between Gore and Lake Lucerne still paved in bricks, perhaps the original bricks driven over by Model Ts and Stanley Steamers almost a century ago. This unexpected discovery was the first of many on this Independence Day and I realized there was a connection between the Dixie Highway and freedom.  The age of the automobile brought more independence to Americans than ever before, as a vacation in Florida was now possible to a whole new class of people. Whereas before steamboats and train cars brought the American elite to places of leisure like Palm Beach, the advent of the automobile and the Dixie Highway opened the way for the middle class to visit the Sunshine State. And they've been arriving in cars by the millions ever since.

Could these bricks date back to the days of the Dixie Highway?
Wonderful Midcentury architecture on Lake Lucerne.

I headed to downtown where I had worked for almost a decade – a place where I'd witnessed enormous change. When I started working there soon after I moved to Central Florida, the soul of old Orlando still lingered. Places like Mac Meiner's BBQ,  Chastains, and the beloved Ronnie's Restaurant were still serving Orlando natives. Even Sam Behr's Shoe Store still existed on Church Street. But downtown was pretty humble outside of the Church Street Station attraction where I worked. So to find relics of the prior age feels like being an urban archaeologist, discovering pieces of a bygone age. Just by the looks of new construction near downtown, the great recession appears to be ending.

A boutique hotel moved into the old Orlando Utilities Building
but left these wonderful remnants from the past behind.
Citrus icon Dr. Phillip Phillips' legacy lives on in Orlando through the philanthropic organization of the same name.  My hope is that this building bearing his name someday finds new life.

WDBO dates back to 1924 and is said to stand for "Way Down by Orlando."
It would be sad to see this wonderful Art Deco building fall by the wayside.

I rode to a Mediterranean Revival property I knew was at risk of being torn down to make way for a high rise on Lake Eola. The charming home turned office building is a relic of an earlier age when private houses existed on the shores of Orlando's favorite park. Historic preservation is on my mind these days as communities in Florida are faced with difficult questions of growth and property rights versus quality of life and community character. Sadly we seem to lose more and more historic buildings with character every day.

It's unlikely this 1920s home will be moved.

Return to College Park
Tana Porter recently published an excellent book about the history of College Park, see it here

Drive-in worship, every Sunday at 8:15!

The expansion of I-4 led to these young cypress trees being cut down. 

It's unclear who painted the stumps red, but the effect is that the trees bleed when cut down. 

On the opposite side of Lake Ivanhoe, noble cypress await their fate.

This residents are rallying around this patch of live oaks.
To protest the cutting of these trees, e-mail

I headed to College Park, a neighborhood where much of my early adult life had been spent. College Park seems to be ground zero for questions of growth and preservation. When I moved there, Edgewater Drive still had service stations with mechanics, a drugstore with a soda fountain, and lots of mom and pop businesses. College Park was originally developed during the land boom of the 1920s. Many of the houses on the street where I lived were built during the time Florida's population started to skyrocket immediately following World War II. My tiny bungalow had no central air, marvelous oak floors, and a mature orange tree in the backyard. I had elderly neighbors next door and there was a school crossing guard at the corner who waved at every car that went by. It felt like living in a small town.

While living in College Park, I had no idea the main commercial road through the neighborhood
was once the Dixie Highway.

When I moved away almost a decade later, most of the elderly neighbors who lived near me were replaced by young couples. Today the spot where the gas station used to be, has become the location of a multi-story condominium building. Many of the mom and pop businesses have been replaced with hipster hangouts. I felt conflicted as I rode down Edgewater Drive; a rush of good memories flooded over me. Perhaps middle age is where you start to feel like you're not a hipster anymore, but you're not an old timer either. You're stuck in the middle.

A very different downtown College Park: "Juice" bikes, a Midcentury Modern
furniture store, and a multi-story condo.

The battle between growth and quality of life is being fought here.

Riding along the edge of Lake Ivanhoe, remembering my favorite houses, where I fished with my Little Brother, where I had a picnic with my family, I felt a range of very powerful emotions fueled by returning to the places where those memories were made. I went to the old apartment where I used to live, peddled down streets I remembered well, and noted what had changed and what had endured. Would my memories still survive if these places had been torn down? If my old pink apartment ceased to exist, would a new building still inspire recollection and introspection? Memories of my Dad during a memorable Christmas at the pink apartments came rushing back. Now that my Dad is gone, those memories are priceless. But does a physical place have the power to preserve memories, or is that just nostalgia on my part?

One of my favorite historic homes on Lake Ivanhoe.
A Midcentury Modern beauty.

Fabulous flamingo on this home's front door.

From a broader perspective, as more people are attracted to a neighborhood and start to remake it with larger, more contemporary houses, does the neighborhood lose the charm that originally attracted them to it? As I rode my bike down entire streets stocked with brand new houses, I wondered if this was the same place at all. So I headed the opposite direction to see if my old house still survived.

What's more Florida than pink apartments? I lived here before buying a home in College Park.

Sadly they put a picnic table in the middle of the shuffleboard court.
Even sadder is the fact that I never played shuffleboard when I lived there.

Wonderful nod to history where a pineapple plantation and a park with a
waterslide called "Joyland" once existed on the shores of Lake Ivanhoe.
The Howard Atha House is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Jack Kerouac lived in College Park. His home now is a place
for writers and poets to stay as artists in residence.

Home by noted local architect James Gamble Rogers.

This beauty was recently in the news when a small plane crashed into their garage.

When I bought my house, my Dad questioned my choice. It was on a busy street and he thought my decision making process may have been overly influenced by the attractive young lady living there with her husband and young son. But when I sold it a decade later and made a healthy profit, I could tell my father was proud of me. The house had been turned into a rental property so I was nervous as I approached.

Because it was a busy street, it appeared that much of the changes that had engulfed the rest of College Park had escaped my old street. Most of the modest homes remained unchanged, a fact that made me very happy. As I neared my house I saw my old neighbor Marty. Marty was actually a mechanic who worked in one of the service stations that used to be on Edgewater. When the garage closed he became a caregiver to my elderly neighbor. Buoyed again by the stroke of good fortune of running into an old neighbor, I pressed on to my house to find that it looked pretty good. It looked like who ever lived there loved the place, and that made me even happier.

My former neighbor Marty and one of his creations

As I passed back through downtown, documenting which pieces of the past had changed and noting those that have survived, I sought out places that I had written about in previous blogs to check on how they've held up (I really need to do this urban bike ride thing more often than once a year).

This art deco home, one of my College Park faves, is currently for sale.
This former church and synagogue was on the the Florida Trust's most threatened list.
Today it is being converted into condos!
I'm not sure what the future holds for this building, a former armory
near the city's "Creative Village" project.
Inside this glass box lies the former Orlando Municipal Auditorium, a building with great local  historical significance. With the opening of the new Performing Arts Center, will this be preserved?

An all-too-common sight in Florida.

I steered my bike to Pine Green, a remarkable home created by Central Florida artist/builder Sam Stoltz. My lucky streak continued as the owners happened to be working in their yard and they gave me a quick tour of the property. I'm thrilled when caring folks buy a historic property and preserve it for future generations to enjoy.

I never noticed how this Sam Stoltz creation looks like a face!

The current owners recently met with the former owners of the home and
discovered it was originally named "Piney Green", not "Pine Green"!

My Freedom Rides are normally about just spontaneously peddling around and snapping photos. But today, everything I saw seemed to connect to themes of change, freedom, and the power of place. As a fan of historic preservation I seek out places like Staunton, Virginia. My wife and I recently vacationed there because of the historic architecture and character of the town. It crushes me when places in Florida like the Bellevue Biltmore are demolished. To me, these structures are more than wood and nails, they are living memories with a soul that should be preserved.

In the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, historic Staunton, Virginia
proved to be a wonderful destination for our summer vacation.

But we tend to live in a world of contrasts. Perhaps true freedom is the fact that we have two seemingly polar opposites, the urge to grow and the urge to preserve, and that we have the power to chose which force wins? Growth seems to be inevitable in Florida, even Ponce de Leon tried to acquire beachfront property. The Calusa Indians, in an effort to preserve their lifestyle, ended the Spaniard's quest, but ultimately succumbed to the Europeans. Growth won out. Maybe nothing has changed in Florida in 500 years? The question is, can we grow without harming other living things while respecting the history made by those who came before us?

Maybe I am just feeling fifty, reliving my glory days, but not so sure about what the future holds. Maybe true freedom lives somewhere in that uncertainty.