Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center
Located only a short distance from the boundary separating Florida and Georgia, Stephen Foster State Folk Culture Center State Park fulfills two purposes. Appropriately situated on the Suwannee River, the 247-acre center honors the memory of Foster, whose song “Old Folks at Home,” memorialized the picturesque stream. It also serves as a gathering place for those who perpetuate the crafts, music and legends of early and contemporary Floridians.
Stephen Collins Foster was born outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. He demonstrated his musical talent early in life by playing the flute at the age of four. His first composition, “The Tioga Waltz,” was completed when he was a fifteen year-old student. In the years that followed, Foster wrote more than 200 songs, including “Oh! Susanna,” “Camptown Races,” “Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair,” “My Old Kentucky Home,” “Beautiful Dreamer,” and many others familiar today.
Foster apparently never saw the Suwannee River, but he made it famous nevertheless. The river begins its course in the Okefenokee Swamp of southeastern Georgia and meanders southwesterly for a distance of approximately 250 miles before it empties into the Gulf of Mexico. The 1935 Florida Legislature designated “Old Folks At Home” also known as “Suwannee River” the official state song.
The Suwannee River has a unique and diverse history. White Sulphur Springs, located on the banks of the river at Stephen Foster Center, dates at least to the 1700s. The Native Americans regarded the sulphur spring as sacred ground for its curative powers. White Sulphur Springs was promoted as a health resort and the spring water advertised as a cure for almost any ailment. In 1906, the spring was enclosed with a high concrete wall and gates to keep the river out. Buildings on either side of the spring contained shops, dressing rooms, and clincial examination rooms. One of the resort’s many famous visitors was Teddy Roosevelt. The springhouse still attracted some visitors into the 1950s. Today, the original concrete wall and gate still exist; and the surrounding area retains much of the culture of that early time.
The Carillon Tower is also home to the world’s largest tubular bell instrument constructed and installed by the J.C. Deagan Company in 1957. the bells of the Stephen Foster Memorial Carillon are of unique design originated by Deagan in 1916. The company installed more than 500 carillons in this country and abroad for nearly 42 years.
The carillon at White Springs, the largest and the last system to be installed by Deagan, consists of three full sets of 32 bells with a scale range of C to G, chromatic, plus a fourth high G bell. Three bells sound in perfect unison for each note to produce a strong, resonant tone response.
Regular programs of many of Stephen Foster’s compositions, which number more than 200, are played by specially trained carillonneur’s and at other times from the automatic electric player installed with the carillon.
Camping, hiking, bicycling, canoeing, and wildlife observation are popular recreational activities at the Stephen Foster Center. Twenty-two campsites are available by reservation or on a first come basis. Facilities include restrooms with hot showers, dump station, water and electric. Campsites with electricity are available on a first come basis only. For camping reservations, telephone (386) 397-4331. Pets and fire arms are prohibited in the camping area. Canoe facilities and liveries are also available in the community.
On-road and off-road bicycling are extremely popular in the White Springs area. Miles of trails are available for your enjoyment through some of the most beautiful country in the Suwannee Valley. Maps of trails and routes are available in the local community.
For more information Contact:
Stephen Foster State Folk Culture Center
Post Office Drawer G
White Springs, FL 32096