Florida's Suwannee River
A bench overlooks a peaceful
bend of the river at Suwannee
River State Park near Live Oak,
Source of the Suwannee
The river rises from the vast
wetlands of the Okefenokee
Swamp. From its source near
Fargo, Georgia, it flows south to
the Gulf of Mexico.
Suwannee River, Florida - Historic Sites & Points of Interest
SUWANNEE RIVER IN FLORIDA
Historic Sites & Points of Interest
|The Suwannee River at White Springs
A view of the Suwannee River taken from the
grounds of the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center
State Park in White Springs, Florida.
Florida's Famed Suwannee River
Since Stephen Foster wrote his famed song
Suwannee River in the years before the Civil
War, Florida's Suwannee River has captured
the imagination of millions of people around
Foster never actually saw the stream that he
immortalized in verse, but generations of
other Americans have admired the beautiful
river. Drawn by the composer's haunting
melody, they have left with an appreciation for
the natural beauty and rich history of the
It is a bit appropriate that the river rises deep
in Georgia's mysterious Okefenokee Swamp.
From there it winds its way south into Florida
to end at the Gulf of Mexico. Its total length is
estimated to be about 266 miles.
The water of the Suwannee, especially along
its upper reaches, is dark and closely
resembles tea. This is because it is colored
by the harmless tannins leached from
decaying leaves along its course. The color
diminishes as the river flows to the Gulf,
thanks to numerous spectacular springs that
add to its volume.
There are various theories as to the source
of the name "Suwannee." There are no
swans on the Suwannee River. Some
believe the name is of Native American
origin, although there are different theories
as to which nation and what it means.
Another intriguing theory is that it "Suwannee"
is actually a corruption of the Spanish words
San Juan. Early Spanish explorers and
missionaries referred to the river as the
"Little San Juan," a name that remained in
use until around 1800.
The Suwannee is rich in history. Native
Americans lived along its banks for
thousands of years before the arrival of
Europeans in North America. Some of the
oldest artifacts ever found in Florida have
come from the Suwannee Valley.
Hernando de Soto built a bridge to cross the
river in 1539 and in later years Franciscan
missionaries became quite familiar with the
stream as they made their way back and forth
along the "Old Spanish Trail" to the missions
built among the Apalachee Indians that lived
around present-day Tallahassee. Mission
San Luis was the primary of these and has
been beautifully reconstructed.
By the early 1800s the Suwannee was the
location of Old Town, one of the principal
villages of the Seminole Indians. Andrew
Jackson attacked and destroyed the town
during the First Seminole War of 1817-1818.
Considerable action took place along the
river during the Second Seminole War (1835-
1842). Fort Fanning Historic Park preserves
the site of a major U.S. Army fortification built
during that conflict.
The early 19th century saw a rise of
commerce on the river. Paddlewheel boats
made their way up and down the Suwannee,
moving people and commerce. Towns such
as the now vanished village of Columbus
grew along its banks.
The railroad bridge over the Suwannee River
at Columbus was of vital importance during
the War Between the States (or Civil War).
The only rail link connecting the parts of
Florida east of the Suwannee and the rest of
the state to the west, it allowed Confederate
forces to move troops, artillery and supplies
across much of the state without interruption.
The greatest threat to the bridge was from
the east, where Union forces captured and
then evacuated Jacksonville several times
during the war. To protect it from attack, the
Confederates built forts on the eastern
approaches of the bridge. One can still be
seen at Suwannee River State Park.
The Battle of Olustee, Florida's largest, was
fought when a Union army drove inland from
Jacksonville intent on seizing the railroad
bridge. It ended in disaster and the span
remained in use by the Southern army until
the end of the war.
Another trace of the War Between the States
ca be seen at Troy Spring State Park. The
wreck of the steamboat Madison still rests in
the spring run where she was scuttled to
protect her from capture by the Union Navy.
Riverboat traffic rebounded on the Suwannee
in the years after the war. Paddlewheel boats
carried passengers and cargoes up and
down the river well into the 20th century.
One of the last boats to run on the river was
the City of Hawkinsville, which operated from
1900-1922. Its well-preserved wreck is now
an underwater preserve near Old Town.
The end of commercial traffic on the river was
not the end travel on the Suwannee. It is now
a major destination for eco-tourism. People
canoe and boat on the pristine waters or hike
along the banks.
Parks and historic sites abound along the
entire length of the river from its source in the
Okefenokee Swamp to its mouth at the Gulf
of Mexico. The Suwannee River Wilderness
Trail links some of the best points of interest
along the river and is a major destination.
To learn more about the historic Suwannee
River, please follow the links below:
Stephen Foster Memorial
A carillon tower soars over the
Suwannee at Stephen Foster
Folk Culture Center. Foster wrote
the song "Suwannee River."
White Springs, Florida
The old spring house at White
Springs is a reminder of the
days when the town was a major
health resort on the banks of the
|Copyright 2012 & 2014 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
Last Update: July 23, 2014
The Suwannee River
The river widens dramatically as
it flows south to the Gulf of
Mexico. This view is from the
boardwalk at Fanning Springs
Civil War Sites in Florida