Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Saving the Springs of Saratoga

"The tranquil woods that surround you now once resembled an industrial park. The springs were exploited for their carbonic gas during the late 1800's and early 1900's...the amount of water being pumped from the ground eventually took its toll on the quality and flow of the mineral springs of Saratoga, and they began to run dry. A local Committee of Concerned Citizens successfully lobbied the state legislature for the preservation of the Springs, resulting in the Anti-Pumping Act of 1908...The gas companies were shut down and many of the wells were capped. It took many years for the remaining springs to regain their flow." – From an interpretive marker in Saratoga Spa State Park, New York

As I have become more interested in the history of Florida's springs, I've been particularly fascinated with the guilded age practice of "taking the waters" for improved health and rejuvenation. "The centuries-old act of bathing, soaking, or ingesting mineral-rich spring or seawater to cure a broad range of ailments, such as arthritis, rheumatism, and various aches and pains" was in vogue at springs in the late 19th and early 20th century.

I'm not sure exactly where the practice originated in the United States, but it surely had its roots in Europe, where towns like Baden-Baden in Germany, Bath in England and Spa in Belgium were known throughout the world for their water therapies. One of the most popular spots to take the waters in the early days of the United States was Saratoga Springs, New York. 

As in Florida, the Native Americans of the region revered the springs and the springs of Saratoga were not discovered by people of European descent until the late 18th century. By the early 1800s, hotels had been built near the springs for visitors seeking the therapeutic qualities of the water. Soon large scale resorts catering to wealthy tourists were developed, including two of the largest hotels in the world at the time. Similar Victorian-era spas were also developed in Florida at places like Green Cove Springs, Suwannee Springs and White Sulfur Springs.

Green Cove Springs, FL (State Archives of Florida)

Hampton Springs, FL (State Archives of Florida)

Like the springs in Florida, the springs waters of New York are a constant cold temperature (in this case 55 degrees compared to the 72 degree temperature of those in Florida.) Some of Saratoga's springs were "sprouters" that rise dramatically in the air like a geyser. All of the Saratoga springs have a high mineral content and are naturally carbonated, a fact that ultimately put them at risk.

Geyser Island Spring, located in Saratoga Spa State Park,
is a "sprouter"  on an island of minerals.

According to a display at the town's history museum, bottlers of soda pop at the start of the 20th century hired "companies to extract carbon dioxide gas from the mineral springs" causing the "depletion of the springs by over pumping." According to text on a separate exhibit at the town's visitors center, a single company might pump up to 400,000 gallons a day just to extract the gas and then merely dump the spring water on the ground. After the State assumed control of the 155 springs in 1909, all but 18 were sealed. The surviving springs are located in three areas, the Congress Park and High Rock Area near Saratoga Spring's downtown, and the spa complex today known as Saratoga Spa State Park. The later was developed by FDR as one of the first projects of the New Deal in 1929.

Congress Spring, said to be the "most famous of all of Saratoga's mineral waters",
was once "bottled and sold around the world."
Detail of Congress Spring tap; I wonder if the presence
of algae indicates contemporary water quality issues... 
Deer Park Spring emanates from this beautiful Victorian structure.
Hathorn Springs is a recently restored addition to the Congress Park area
Text on a tableau of one of the New Deal era buildings of Saratoga Spa State Park
While some of the structures are in wonderful condition,
others are in dire need of restoration
Art Deco relief on the pediment of Roosevelt Baths
Administration Building at Saratoga Spa State Park
Orenda Spring is said to have high iron content and is good for "strong blood"
The overflow from Orenda Spring forms this mound of hardened minerals
The high mineral content is obvious in spring
Sarasota Springs locals still swear by the medicinal value of the water
and fill water jugs from their favorite springs

I visited Saratoga Springs on two occasions on my recent vacation, stopping first at Saratoga Spa State Park and then making a separate pilgrimage to Congress Park to learn more. Despite the physical differences between the geology of the springs in Florida and Saratoga Springs, I found a common history and a common challenge. Overuse threatens the springs of Florida like they did in Saratoga Springs over 100 years ago. I was encouraged to read about the "Committee of Concerned Citizens" that came together to save these pure waters a century ago. Surely the concerned citizens of Florida can do the same in the 21st century.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Soaking Up the Silver Springs Rally

It's been a busy summer so far and I haven't had a chance to blog about June's Rally for Florida's Water at Silver River State Park until now.  Before the rally I worked on postcards for the Sierra Club using John Moran's images. I felt like helping the Sierra Club out at the event so I was tasked with finding individuals to fill out the postcards to send to lawmakers in Tallahassee. Wearing a bright neon green T-shirt with "Ask Me About Slime" across the front, I worked the crowd and occasionally visited the booths of the other environmental organizations while listening to the presentations. Estimates of the crowd ranged from 1,500 to 1,800 and the keynote speaker, former Senator and Ex-Governor Bob Graham spoke to an enormous audience.

This postcard, showing the algae outbreak on the Santa Fe River earlier this year,
was filled out and mailed to state lawmakers.
This one shows the formerly pristine Itchetucknee.
A gorgeous Live Oak spread its limbs over the rally.
An overflow crowd for Bob Graham and others
Music, Old Florida style
Ex-governor and former U.S. Senator Bob Graham

I finally checked out the museum that was closed on my last visit to the State Park and ogled over the amazing Silver Springs artifacts. With so much great history on display, it's hard to believe anyone would do anything that could threaten this iconic natural and historic landmark. The whole day was remarkable; no rain despite an 80% chance of precipitation, great participation from those in attendance and a rousing standing ovation for John Moran's closing address

Fantastic model of the aquifer below Ocala in the museum
There were so many great exhibits at the museum that I plan on going back to see it again.
John "Man on Fire" Moran's rousing closing speech challenged current Governor Rick Scott to take action.

The event generated good publicity and locally the Orlando Sentinel has started to write editorials critical of the state's water policies. Soon after the rally northern portions of the state were soaked by Tropical Storm Debbie, dumping much needed rain on the area. Evidence of the deteriorating water levels in the aquifer could be seen, however, in the large number of sinkholes opening up throughout the state (over 50 in Marion County alone.) The Adena Springs Ranch folks who have requested the large water permit, have gone on a PR offensive, taking out huge ads in both the Gainesville and Ocala papers and launching a new website. Overall the rally was a good start to the campaign for better water policies in the state, but the big battle has yet to be decided. And the war over Florida's water is unlikely to be resolved any time soon. But I will to all I can to make sure future generations have the opportunity to know the beauty of Florida's spectacular natural waters.

This billboard, just south of the park, foreshadowed the events to follow Tropical Storm Debbie

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Freedom Ride 2

I guess if you do something two years in a row, it's a tradition.  Last year I did a quick bike ride/photo safari on the 4th of July so I followed it up with a peddle though the summer heat this year as well. I documented anything that spoke to me in the communities of Conway, Belle Isle, Pinecastle and Edgewood near Orlando.

Happy Independence Day!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Dairy around the corner

The new historic Orlando Group on Facebook has been a great source of information about the City Beautiful, and a post requesting information about Datson Dairy yielded surprising results. My original blog detailing my quest to find out more about the area surrounding my house, had limited information about the Dairy. But I was delighted when members of the Datson family, still living in the area, posted some valuable information to help fill in some of the gaps.

According to posts on the page, Datson Dairy opened in 1910 and was operated by Clarence Dotson who was said to be a "pioneer" in the nearby community of Pinecastle. Much of the information was provided by Priscilla Crawford Datson, providing family history and images. Mrs. Datson explained "Clarence Datson and his three brothers operated the dairy, each brother except Theodore, who chose to go into more of just the political end of farming, had and operated their own dairy farms. The processing plant was downtown at the corner of South St. and the railroad." She continued "after the death of his father, Glen Datson Sr. had a dairy farm in the Conway area.The original farm was in the Lake Hourglass area, the farmhouse being built for my husband’s Grandmother was finished after his Grandfather was killed in an auto accident, and the the brothers took over the original operation, that is when the farm in the Conway area was started by Glen Sr." She explained that the boundaries of the original farm on the shore of Lake Hourglass (the first photo in the post) extended east to Bumby Avenue and north and south between Kaley and Curry Ford Road. 

Theodore Datson, Vice President of the Florida Dairy Industry gives an address, 1950
UF Digital Collections (UFDC)

Priscilla's son-in-law posted these images of a postcard of the South Street bottling plant that was later sold to Borden.

I also learned that the farmhouse built in 1926, is still standing, and the family still lives in it! For a historyhead like myself, it doesn't get much better than that! I was able to find the cypress tree that is in on the right hand side of the farm photo, larger and still going strong!

And this is the general area where the farm used to be. The large Cypress to the right of the palm tree sits on a narrow county park that I now know was donated to the county by the Datsons.

Here is a 1954 aerial of Lake Hourglass. There are no more citrus groves, only houses. The farm would have been on the east side of the larger half of the lake.

It's fun finding pieces of the puzzle, but it also whets my appetite to want to learn more. As I slowly learn more about the place I call home, I feel solidly grounded in the present and connected to the area's colorful past. Thanks to Priscilla Crawford Datson and her son-in-law Dan for their images and information.