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.