Friday, October 6, 2017

Looking for Billy Bartram

Note: William Bartram first came to Florida in 1765 with his father John, who was exploring the new British possession for King George. After failing as a Florida plantation owner, William, aka Billy, returned to Florida on his own in 1774 and in 1779 published an epic narrative of his journeys throughout the southeast titled Travels. His lyrical prose inspired a generation of writers and naturalists to follow – they continue to inspire people today, including myself.

Even though there are historical markers and signs marking the Bartram Trail throughout the state, the small city of Palatka seems to have taken ownership of Bartram in Florida. Their festival of all things Bartram is known as the St. Johns River Bartram Frolic, a reference to a Native American ritual at Spalding’s Lower Store called the "Indian Frolic" in William Bartram’s writings. The two-day long event held the last weekend of September features historical reenactors, boat excursions, hiking, biking, and kayak tours, art, music, and a symposium featuring Bartram presentations. My first foray into the Frolic was a kayak trip to two of the springs visited by Bartram: Satsuma and Welaka Springs.

Soon after putting in at the Shell Harbor boat ramp in Satsuma

The forecast looked bleak the day before the excursion, but the overcast skies resulted in comfortable cooler temperatures. The water of the mighty St. Johns looked like swirling black ink and it was still swollen from the passage of Hurricane Irma three weeks prior.  Our mission was to follow the route that was explored by John and William Bartram on December 27, 1765.

A short paddle up river led us our first stop at Satsuma Spring, a site described in John Bartram’s journal but only recently discovered by our tour leader, Bartram aficionado Dean Campbell. From the river the spring run was impossible to detect, only by interpreting the topography was it found, as much of the east side of the river is composed of steep bluffs, and springs can only at low points along the river.  The spring is located on private property and the Bartram festival organizers had arranged our visit ahead of time with the owner. A nearly horizontal live oak guards the spring’s entrance and our tour leader informed us that Native Americans often intentionally bent trees to indicate the presence of water sources.  The spring is in a small ravine and the owner had lined the path with mulch to cover up the mud created by Irma. Confined within a semi-circular basin made of cement filled-sand bags to prevent erosion, the spring wreaks of sulfur, one of the clues that linked it to the Bartrams. John Bartram’s journal described the spring this way: "a large fountain (big enough to turn a mill) of warm clear water of a very offensive taste, and smelt like bilge-water, or the washings of a gun-barrel...."  The smell of sulfur, while stinky to most made one of my fellow paddlers feel nostalgic as she explained that she grew up drinking sulfur water and actually liked the smell. Another paddler claimed that it made an excellent mosquito repellant and drinking the water would keep the bugs at bay.  The property owner told us that the torrential rains from Irma had “opened up” the spring and improved its flow. On this gray overcast day the spring water possessed the distinctive cerulean hue I’ve come to associate with Florida’s most beautiful springs.  After a few minutes of soaking in the history and natural beauty of this 3rd magnitude spring, we returned to our kayaks and paddled on.

Native Americans were known to have intentionally bent trees to indicate water sources

Observing the spring vent

The white stuff on the leaves is bacteria that indicates the presence of sulfur

Here's what it looks like where the Satsuma Spring run enters the river

Next was Nashua Spring, also on private property, but in this case we could see nothing more than the Bartram Trail sign marking its location on the river. We paddled on, under leaning live oak limbs, around newly downed tree trunks, and past a half dozen locals in powerboats throwing cast nets in the pursuit of shrimp. At Turkey Island we turned left into a cove towards Welaka Spring, another third magnitude spring – one I remember fondly from my adolescence.  When I was teen my friends and I would trek up this cove until water hyacinths impeded our progress. Then we’d be forced to wade the rest of the way through the dark water, (with the hyacinths at face level), until we reached the spring. There was a rope swing and one could swing out right over the spring boil and plunge into the freezing water, an oasis of clarity in the otherwise root beer-colored cove.

Dean Campbell explaining what the Bartrams would have experienced on this part of the river

As we paddled to the spring I notice immediately, (with great glee), that there are no longer water hyacinths to be found anywhere. The only object near the spring is a floating house – a homemade houseboat on pontoons – positioned adjacent to the boil. The spring is “browned out”, meaning the water level of the surrounding river is so high that the brilliant blue hue, so noticeable at Satsuma Spring, is not evident here. There is, however, a significant boil on the surface indicating a high amount of water flow. While our tour leader relates anecdotes about the spring’s history, the rain we had dodged earlier began to fall gently, and we paddled back down river to our starting point, following the Bartrams’ footprints and grateful that they can still be found over 250 years after they explored this location.

These Bartram Trail signs mark locations visited by William

Dean over the boil of Welaka Spring

Dean speculates that his floating house was moved back
in the cove as protection from Hurricane Irma
Yours truly as a teenager, jumping into Welaka Spring

The next day the featured event of the Frolic was the Bartram Symposium with five different speakers. Despite persistent rain, an enthusiastic audience of about 65 people enjoyed close to three hours of presentations about the 18th century botanist and explorer. Over-sized framed prints of William Bartram’s drawings ringed the room and a Bartram re-enactor was on-hand, posing for selfies with eager Bartramphiles. The first two speakers were co-authors of Travels on the St.Johns River, a book devoted entirely to the Bartrams expeditions up and down the river. Thomas Hallock, a professor of English at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, gave a brief Bartram overview and co-author Richard Franz, an emeritus scientist at the Florida Museum of Natural History, discussed the flowers Bartram observed along his trip on the St. Johns. Next the Environmental Archaeology Collection Manager at the Florida Museum of Natural History, Irvy R. Quitmyer, talked about the archeology of the region, specifically the indigenous people who lived near the river before the Bartrams arrived.  Brad Sanders of the Bartram Trail Conference next discussed plans to attempt to designate a Bartram Heritage Corridor along the routes traveled by the Bartrams (seven states in total.) The Symposium concluded with an animated presentation by Bartram muralist and reenactor Dean Quigley.

Bartram reenactor at the St. Johns River Center in Palatka

The Bartram reenactor stayed in character throughout the symposium

Bartram Frolic organizer Ken Mahaffey

William Bartram’s travels were published just 15 years after America declared independence from England. His powerful spiritual descriptions of what he encountered in Florida inspired writers and authors of the period, from the poet Coleridge to influential transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau. What I learned from attending the Bartram Frolic is that his beautiful words still echo up and down the St. Johns River and they still have the power to inspire. What an amazing legacy.

Interpretive Bartram sign in Welaka
The Seminoles named William Bartram Puc Puggy which means "Flower Hunter"

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Freedom Ride 2017

I did my first Freedom Ride in 2010, peddling close to home, taking photos appropriate for the Fourth of July. The rides have expanded over the years going down into Pinecastle and up into College Park. Last year my wife and I spent a memorable Independence Day in Portsmouth, New Hampshire at Strawberry Banke, an incredible collection of historic buildings. We saw a group of immigrants become U.S. citizens, heard Governor Maggie Hassan read the Declaration of Independence, and interacted with re-enactors depicting different eras in American history.

This year we are home for the Fourth, so I once again resumed my personal tradition of exploring my freedom with a bicycle-powered photo safari. I look forward to this ride every year.

Constitutional Reflections
Freedom to grow
Manhole Monolith
Cherokee Dreamcatcher
Up and down back and forth
County Colors
Leaper's Light
Concrete Majestic
Cool Gray
Shadow selfie
Pulse 2
Bars and scars
A bit faded
Natural patterns
Detention Retention
I seemed to focus on color and pattern this year. I try to let the pictures come to me now, if I had a deliberate intention it seems contrary to the concept of freedom. My favorite images tend to be simple and graphic, as a graphic designer, I think that's how I'm wired.

The weather was fairly comfortable for this time of year and the sky was a brilliant blue. The recent rains left many opportunities for reflections.
Until next year, enjoy your freedom and take time to notice your world, every day.

Other Freedom Rides:

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Spring hunting in Eureka Springs

Sweet Spring
Green Cove Springs in Clay County, Florida recently opened new facilities around their legendary artesian spring. Around the spring head formed concrete creates what looks like a wading area dotted with large limestone boulders. From what I can tell from the photo posted by the City, it looks like the entire spring is now protected with a decorative iron fence. After sharing the image on Facebook, someone noted that they thought it looked  "odd".

Image from the City of Green Cove Springs

Springs in Florida have been piped, pooled, and protected since they first became resources for taking the waters in the 19th century. Bathhouses were built around the water like the grand spring house at White Sulphur Springs in North Florida. In order to create a space where the Victorian tourists felt comfortable, natural spring basins were contained and 'improved upon' by man. In my opinion, Florida's springs are one of the state's greatest natural resources, and the fact that we have felt the need to improve upon them has always fascinated me.

But in Arkansas the springs in most cases do not create large pool-like basins – they are often small trickles that emerge from rocky hillsides. I was fascinated to see how the thermal waters were pooled and piped into bathhouses in Hot Springs. Northwest of Hot Springs, in the mountain town of Eureka Springs, I was interested in how the built environment around the waters of the healing springs had evolved.

Eureka Spring mural shows, l-r, Native Americans, tents of early settlers, and Eureka Springs as a boomtown.
One of those hillside springs had a small tub like depression carved into the rock, supposedly by Native Americans who used it for healing purposes, and it may have been the reason the entire town came into being. This spring, now known as Basin Spring, is located in the heart of the historic downtown. The spring's reputation of healing powers first caught the attention of Dr. Alvah Jackson, who set up a hospital using spring water to treat wounded Civil War soldiers from both sides. The Doctor's cave hospital soon grew into a successful business, and when his associate was cured of a "crippling disease," the word soon spread. Founded in 1879, the town of Eureka Springs exploded with growth, and "visitors flocked to the original encampment of tents and hastily built shanties," according to

Basin Spring

Today Basin Spring is a great example of how beloved water resources are often "piped, pooled, and protected." Basin Spring Park occupies space next to the Basin Park Hotel carved out of the surrounding hillside. A decorative arch proclaims the waters there to be the "Balm of Life" and a large fountain is the focal point of the park. Beneath the fountain, the plumbing resembles that of a contemporary home, so it is unclear if the water in the fountain is from the spring or the local water supply. 

A stairwell leads up the hill and where more pipes and valves appear to collect the famous healing waters. The view of the town is outstanding from that vantage point, and it is amazing to me that what was once the 4th largest town in the state, sprung up almost overnight based merely on its reputation for miraculous springs. 

Pipes under the fountain in the park

Pipes near the apparent source of the spring


A vintage travel brochure published by the Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad titled "Heart of the Ozarks" claims that the "City of Healing Waters" boasts some fifty springs within the city limits. The website says there are actually sixty-three. For the few days I was in town, I made it my mission to locate as many of the springs as I could.

Sweet Spring

Named for the taste of the water, this spring trickles out below street level, so twin sets of twisting stairs were created to make it accessible. Like a number of the springs throughout the city, Sweet Spring was surrounded by gorgeous landscaping. In this case, the manmade enhancements to the springs are quite pleasing to the eye.

Harding Spring

Next down the street is Harding Spring, named for a photographer who often used the spring as a backdrop for tourist photos. It is also the site of a famous healing where young Jennie Cowan regained her eyesight from using its waters after seven years of blindness.

Beautiful landscaping surrounded many of the city's springs

Crescent Spring

Further down the road is Crescent Spring with its ornate gazebo, originally built in 1885. Located close to the Crescent Hotel, this spring who's flow is a mere trickle today, was said to have remarkable healing power, "almost as much as the Basin." 

Grotto Spring

On the opposite side of the Crescent Hotel is Grotto Spring, located within a grotto-like cave. I visited around dusk, after a ghost tour at the Crescent Hotel, and must it admit finding this spring especially creepy!

Magnetic Spring

Said to magnetize anything metal that came in contact with the water, Magnetic Spring is located just outside the town's central commercial district. It was reputed to help cure addiction and it has two structures  – a pavilion covering the spring and a picnic pavilion. I met a man there who frequented the site and he said he had recently seen someone soaking their legs in the water in search of healing.

Calif Spring

Located next to the small Eureka Springs history museum, this spring appears to have stopped flowing. Ironically when I asked about the location of the spring at the museum, they didn't know where it was.

Congress Spring

I was stumped trying to find this one, supposedly near the town's Carnegie Library. On my second trip to an antique store, I noticed a small sign in the back window. Looking through the window I could see what looked like a cave out back. When I asked the store owner about it she told me to pull up the floorboard. Congress Spring was running right underneath the building! She said they've done die trace studies and have never figured out where the water ends up.

Congress Spring runs under the floor of the building on the left of this image

I noticed this sign...

... and saw a cave behind the building

The water flows right beneath the floor!

Gadd Spring

Another surprising discovery was a spring located inside a gift shop. While Congress Spring was secretly hidden beneath the floor of an antique shop, Gadd Springs is actually used in the promotion of gift shop.

Springs everywhere

On our last night in Eureka Springs, my wife and I dined at the Grotto Wood-Fired Grill and Wine Cave. The greeter led us through the dark restaurant to the table in the corner, next to a rocky formation. Upon further investigation, there was a spring emerging from the rocks, and water flowed downward toward a drain. I was ecstatic to be able to dine right next to a flowing spring, (plus the food was excellent as well, I highly recommend dining there.)

As we left we climbed down some steps after dinner,  I noticed water seeping out from rock under the main commercial street. Then I noticed water running across the parking lot. Seemingly in Eureka Springs, there are springs everywhere. For a spring hunter like me, it's amazing. I was astounded at the vast number of springs, and how the reputed healing power of the water was responsible for the creation of an entire town carved out of steep Ozark hills. While the water is not revered as it once was, the town itself seems as healthy and vital as ever.

Water seeps from a hillside

Spring water flows across a parking lot.