Last weekend people across the United States celebrated Memorial Day. It is a time to remember veterans of foreign wars. For many, this 3-day weekend marks the start of summer – school finishes, road trips abound, and dark shoes and belts are switched for white. For many years, our family spent Memorial Day week in far north Florida at the Florida Folklife Festival (https://www.floridastateparks.org/FloridaFolkFestival).
This year’s road trip special. Of course, it was the first time Constant Companion and I broke away from the bounds of COVID together in almost two years (Daughter sadly stayed home for work). Some of the expected and unexpected sites along the way caught our attention before we reached our destination, the Festival.
First stop was the Orlando Premium Outlet Mall, eh, it’s an outlet mall. Then the trip northward continued. Approaching Ocala (horse country central), a bright yellow and white building caught our eyes. Curiosity drove us to exit and return down the access road to investigate.
The Shree Swaminarayan Temple (https://www.facebook.com/sgadiocala/ and https://www.swaminarayangadi.com/northamerica/index.php), the primary temple of Maninagar Shree Swaminarayan Gadi Sansthan in the United States, was originally planned to open in 2020. The opening is rescheduled for next month July 7-9, 2022. It’s a massive structure covered with intricate detail, including images of Lord Ganesh, the elephant headed god, and peacocks which are identified with the Goddess of wealth, Lakshmi.
A gentleman showed us around the exterior and spoke of the local community. He explained that work was also delayed because of a hurricane. One of the shikaras, or spires, no longer sat on the building, but on the ground, now a home to numerous wasps nests.
We were kindly invited to return (any) Sunday at 6:30 for a communal meal, flashback the Hari Krishna meals while in college.
Other sites visited during the weekend were the small town of White Springs, the site of the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park is held annually, the Springs, and the Suwannee River.
White Springs was first noticed by tourists in the 1830s when it was believed bathing in the local sulfur spring was good for your health. Many Victorian buildings still remain in town, especially in the White Springs Historic District.
Located on the Florida Quilt Trail (https://www.floridacurrents.com/florida-quilt-trail/), White Springs honors the state’s pioneer history. The Florida Quilt Trail is part of the American Quilt Trail movement. These trails consist of a series of painted quilt blocks installed on a popular route. These massive blocks are usually painted on or near historic landmarks.
The sulphur springs on the Suwannee River was considered to be a sacred healing ground by indigenous people. The settlement was first incorporated in 1831 as Jackson Springs. A hotel was soon built and the local spring was called Upper Mineral Springs.
In the mid-1800s, White Sulphur Springs became noted as a health resort. It became was one of Florida’s first tourist destinations. The springs and others were promoted as a cure for almost any ailment. Visitors came seeking to heal nervousness, kidney problems and rheumatism “by swimming in the healing water.” In the late 1800s, there were fourteen luxury hotels and many more boarding houses to accommodate the visitors who came by special excursion train.
In 1906, the spring was enclosed with gates and a high coquina and concrete wall to keep the river out. A four-tiered building on either side of the spring contained shops, dressing rooms, and clinical examination rooms.
Henry Ford and Teddy Roosevelt visited the resort. By the 1930s, people began to lose their fascination with bathing in mineral springs, and the town began to decline. Today the original wall and gate still exist.
The Suwannee River is a federally designated wild river.
It flows from the Okefenokee Swamp in southern Georgia to the Gulf of Mexico in Florida, winding for almost 266 miles through swamps, limestone banks, hardwood hammocks, and salt marshes. White Springs is only one of fifty-five springs along the way.
Stephen Foster was America’s first professional songwriter in the 1800s. While writing “Old Folks at Home,” Foster had difficulty finding the right words to complete a verse joining his image of a beautiful river and longings for family and home.
It’s believed that his brother suggested the Suwannee River after consulting a world atlas. The words fit, and “Way down upon the Suwannee River.” Since 1935, it has also been Florida’s state song.
Interestingly, Foster, a native of Pittsburgh, never visited Florida and he never saw the Suwannee River.
In the 1950s, land was acquired on the Suwannee River at White Springs. The land was developed into the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park. In 1950 the Stephen Foster Memorial Museum opened to honor the composer of the world famous song “Old Folks at Home.” Shortly thereafter, the Florida Folk Festival was established to highlight the state’s cultural history and traditions.