art, film, literature and culture

Painting by Margaret Ross Tolbert

Margaret Ross Tolbert
Springs Cavern, 2006
oil on canvas, 90 x 90 in.


Selected Resources


The unique and spectacular beauty of Florida’s springs has inspired many notable artists, including painters Margaret Ross Tolbert, Johnny Dame,  Jim Draper and Annie Pais; cartographer and visual artist Eric Hutcheson, photographers John MoranMark Long and Jenny Adler; and photographers/filmmakers Wes Skiles, Eric Flagg, Matt Keene and Jill Heinerth.  See links to their work in the tabs below.

Margaret Ross Tolbert has tuned her attention to the springs of Florida more than any other painter, and her work resides in public and private collections throughout the world.  Speaking and exhibiting internationally, Tolbert is one of the springs’ foremost advocates.  Her award-winning book Aquiferious (2010) is a visually stunning compilation of art and science, featuring Tolbert’s luminescent paintings and poetry, and essays by leading springs scientists, writers and researchers.

There’s an abundance of wonderful springs-related reading to choose from, including Bill Belleville’s creative non-fiction books, natural histories by Archie Carr and Lars Andersen, and cultural histories by Lu Vickers, Gary Monroe and Rick Kilby.  Doug Stamm’s The Springs of Florida offers a natural history and field guide for divers, paddlers and visitors.

Acclaimed water journalist Cynthia Barnett’s numerous publications and two books, Mirage: Florida and the Vanishing Water of the Eastern U.S(2007) and Blue Revolution: Unmaking America’s Water Crisis (2011)should be required reading for every Floridian.  Barnett travels the world researching and speaking on water issues.  Blue Revolution is a powerful look at water and community in America, and is the first book to call for a national water ethic. See the Literature/Culture tabs for descriptions and links.

In addition, Barnett’s North Florida Springs: The Fountainous Region, a literary timeline for the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, is offered in the tab below.

Jill Heinerth’s filmWe Are Water (2012), makes a global statement about our vital connection to water that includes several Florida springs.  For more information see the Film tab.  Click on here to watch via streaming.

Environmental filmmaker Eric Flagg’s latest video, Following the Ichetucknee (2014), is a meditation on land use and how it affects the river and springs.   A lush and tantalizing view of this “sacre bleu”river  is offered in his recent video Ichetucknee Dreams.  For a seriously funny look at America’s love affair with lawns, don’t miss the documentary Gimme Green (2206),  co-directed with Issac Brown.

Matt Keene and Florida Defenders of the Environment have just produced a terrific website and video, River Be Dammed (2014), which documents the debacle that is the Rodman Dam.  Interviews with Karen Chadwick, Karen Ahlers, Robin Lewis, Lars Andersen, Whitely Markle and others discuss how a taxpayer boondoggle negatively impacts the Ocklawaha River and the ecologies it has supported for ten thousand years.

Lesley Gamble’s Swimming Through Air is a joyful, humorous and deeply affectionate underwater tour through some of the flora and fauna of Florida’s marvelous springs.

For a wonderful article on how art can help save our springs, see Jenny Adler’s Lenses and Love: The Art of Saving Florida’s Springs.

And don’t miss Florida’s Eden’s Blue Path exhibit at the Seagle Building in Gainesville (408 West University Ave.) for an excellent overview of the conditions impacting our North Florida springs.

Painting and Drawing, Contemporary


Margaret Ross Tolbert

Jim Draper

Eric Hutcheson

Annie Pais

Jane Medved

Mark Messersmith



Paintings and Engravings, 16th to 20th centuries


Theodore DeBry’s 16th  c. engravings of Jacques Le Moyne’s drawings.  The Florida Memory archive is an excellent source:

USF has some good details here:

Herman Herzog’s 19th c. paintings.  During the 1860s, the German artist settled in Philadelphia but continued to travel, including regular visits to his son’s home in Gainesville, Florida.  Herzog created more than 250 Florida views of the lush vegetation between the Suwannee and Homosassa Rivers.  This painted record of unspoiled Florida was created for Herzog’s appreciation alone without any audience in mind.  The Harn Museum of Art in Gainesville ( and the Cummer Museum in Jacksonville ( have Herzog paintings in their collections.

Winslow Homer’s 19th –early 20th c. watercolors and paintings.  There’s a collection of his 1904 watercolors at the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. See also Winslow Homer, Blue Spring, Florida, 1890,_Florida.jpg.

Other 19th – early 20th c. painters include William Aiken Walker (American, 1838-1921), Ocklawaha River, and Anthony Thieme (American, 1888-1954), Silver Light, St. Johns River, Florida.

The Florida Highwaymen.  A group of young black artists, women and men, who painted their way out of the despair awaiting them in the citrus groves and packing houses of 1950s Florida. As their story recaptures the imagination of Floridians and their paintings fetch ever-escalating prices, the legacy of their freshly conceived landscapes exerts a new and powerful influence on the popular conception of the Sunshine State.  See cultural historian Gary Monroe’s books about the Highwaymen, listed under Literature: “Springs Culture and Water Issues.”



Community-based Art




Film and Video


Jill Heinerth, We Are Water (2012)

“A passionate documentary exploring our spiritual and physical connection with the source of all life.”
We are water

We are water

Heinerth has dived deeper into caves than any woman in history. With a collection of magnificent images, from inside Antarctic icebergs to the Floridan Aquifer and subterranean Siberia, Jill shares a glimpse of a breathtaking world few will experience.  An award-winning filmmaker, Jill wrote, produced, and appeared in Water’s Journey, the PBS documentary series that takes viewers on travels through the world’s greatest water systems.   Her accolades include being named a “Living Legend” by Sport Diver Magazine, induction into the exclusive New York Explorer’s Club and the inaugural class of the Women Diver’s Hall of Fame. Jill’s most recent film, We Are Water is an imaginative, entertaining, and enlightening documentary, illustrating the fragile relationship between our planet’s endangered fresh water resources, and the ever increasing needs of our expanding population.
The film and website can be accessed at


Wes Skiles

Skiles filmed more than 100 TV films.  In 2004 he won a Regional Emmy Award for his PBS documentary “Water’s Journey: The Hidden Rivers of Florida.”  Skiles was also an environmental advocate:” I have dedicated my life to sharing my discoveries with the world in hopes that we can protect it before it is too late,” he wrote of Florida’s springs in 2008. “It is difficult for most people to understand, much less accept, that just beneath the gentle rolling and scrub of North Florida exists the greatest free-flowing aquifer on Earth, and that every action on the surface, no matter how innocent or well intended, has the ability to damage this resource.”

To see his series Water’s Journey: The Hidden Rivers of Florida, go to:


Eric Flagg

Flagg is an environmental scientist and filmmaker with a passion for documentary production and storytelling.  He can be reached at  Gimme Green (2006) is a humorous look at the American obsession with the residential lawn and the effects it has on our environment, our wallets and our outlook on life. From the limitless subdivisions of Florida to sod farms in the arid southwest, Gimme Green peers behind the curtain of the $40-billion industry that fuels our nation’s largest irrigated crop—the lawn.

Here’s his lush and poetic short video, Ichetucknee Dreams (2103)  and his latest video, Following the Ichetucknee (2014), a meditation on land use and how it affects the river and springs.


Matt Keene

Matt Keene, in collaboration with Florida Defenders of the Environment, has just produced a terrific website and video, River Be Dammed, which documents the debacle that is the Rodman Dam.  Interviews with Karen Chadwick, Karen Ahlers, Robin Lewis, Lars Andersen, Whitely Markle and others discuss how a taxpayer boondoggle negatively impacts the Ocklawaha River and the ecologies it supported for ten thousand years.


David Beede

Musician and activist. Check out this video, Aquifer Safe and Sound (2010), a message to Kirby Green, former Executive Director of the St. John’s River Water Management District in Florida, and the one responsible for approving or disapproving an application for a permit for Eugene Kholov of LBC Inc. to pump .250 million gallons a day from the Floridan aquifer to raise Siberian sturgeon for caviar. The sturgeon farm did not settle in Melrose.


Bill Belleville

Belleville has scripted several films for Equinox Documentaries, Inc., including the PBS documentary “In Marjorie’s Wake” and the Emmy-winning “Wekiva: Legacy or Loss?” and has traveled widely overseas for the Discovery Channel.


Eric Hutcheson

With the success of our initial project in 1989 and 1990, I conducted research and TV and film shoots at Silver Glen throughout the 90s. Currently our Silver Glen Springs cave diving team has been reestablished and continues to collect data from the spring to be compared with or 90s file and to assist the US Forest in the preservation of the park.

A Discovery Network TV Show that showcases Silver Glen:

Hutcheson’s YouTube channel with several show about preserving the Aquifer:


Shirley Lasseter

Passionate about film and the environment, Lasseter creates websites and videos that chronicle our changing world.  She initiated the first environmental film festival in Gainesville and for many years has been instrumental in bringing films to our community that feature the most pressing social and environmental issues. Blue Springs then and now (1959-2012)


Lesley Gamble 

Co-Director of the Springs Eternal Project, Gamble is deeply at home in the water.  Her video Swimming Through Air is a a joyful, humorous and deeply affectionate underwater tour through some of the splendid flora and fauna of Florida’s marvelous springs.  Commissioned by the Gainesville Orchestra, this video underscores the mission of the Springs Eternal Project:  To inspire Floridans to value, conserve and restore our precious waters.  Current projects underway include a documentation of algae in spring runs, and a collaboration with dancer Marlowe Fairbanks called Springs Daughter.


Robert Seidler

Seidler produces programs that educate, inform, and promote. He’s especially proud of programs that relate to health, quality of life, nature-based tourism, education, and sustainable communities, issues especially close to his heart.  He promotes nature-based tourism and has produced two series for the State of Florida: Florida the Outdoor Adventure, a seven part series covering Florida’s natural parks statewide, and Florida takes to the Trails, a four part series featuring select hiking, cycling, paddling, and nature viewing trails in Florida. Seidler has received numerous national and international awards. He leads outdoor adventure trips at Sopchoppy Outfitters in Sopchoppy, Florida. He has plenty of spare bikes and kayaks if you happen to drop by on the trail or in Sopchoppy.


Mark Emery


YouTube, General


Florida’s Sinkholes Are Swallowing Cars: America’s Water Crisis (Part 2/3) Warning: Contains strong language.


Film and TV Shows Shot in Florida Springs


Underwater photography and filmmaking were pioneered in Florida springs by legendary figures like Newt Perry, Grantland Rice and Bruce Mozert.

Silver Springs has been popular with Hollywood.  Between 1932-42 six Tarzan movies starring Johnny Weissmuller were shot at Silver Springs.  Later, some were shot at Wakulla and Weeki Wachee.

Among the 20 movies filmed in part at Silver Springs are: Jupiter’s Darling, Rebel Without A Cause, the James Bond film Moonraker and Distant Drums, starring Gary Cooper.  More than 100 episodes of Sea Hunt were shot at Silver Springs and some at Tarpon Springs.

Wakulla was also a popular film location.  Beginning in 1938, several of the early Tarzan  films including Tarzan’s New York Adventure starring Johnny Weissmuller  were filmed on location in Wakulla Springs. Other films such as The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Night Moves, Airport ’77, and Joe Panther, starring Brian Keith and Ricardo Montalban, were also filmed on location at Wakulla.


Archive of Images from Films and TV Shows Shot in Florida Springs


From Florida Memory Division of Library and Information Sciences Credit photos: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, Please include photographer’s name when noted.


Alexander Springs

Filming an episode of the CBS television series Lassie (which ran from 1954 through 1974). Filming took place in 1965 for the episode entitled Lassie the Voyager, which first aired 16 October 1966. Though a female character, all the Lassies were in fact played by male dogs. Lassie awaiting her cue in front of camera crew (1965)  Image Number: PR07250.  Alexander Springs (Lake County, Fla.)



Revenge of the Creature, the sequel to The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Filmed in 3-DGinger Stanley in the grip of the creature: Silver Springs, Florida (1954)  Image Number: RC13412.  Pictured here is Florida-native Ricou Browning, who played the Creature (better known as Gill Man) in all three pictures, and stand-in Ginger Stanley. Released by universal Studios in 1955. Silver Springs, Florida

Filming of “Airport 77” underwater (1976). Image Number: PR07279This scene from Airport ’77  was filmed at Wakulla Springs, Florida.


Weeki Wachee

Ann Blyth being carried to underwater set during filming (1948)  Image Number: PR10452.  Ed and Whitey McMahan carry actress Ann Blyth to the underwater set during filming of Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid at Weeki Wachee Spring.  Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid was directed by Irving Pichel and starred William Powell as Mr. Peabody and Ann Blyth as the Mermaid.


Silver Springs

Williams’ hair being prepared for an underwater sequence: Silver Springs, Florida (1955).  Jupiter’s Darling, an MGM film directed by George Sidney and starring Esther Williams and Howard Keel, was based upon Robert Sherwood’s play.   Image Number: RC13406

Distant Drums (1951) was directed by Raoul Walsh and released by Warner brothers. It was set in the Everglades in the 1840’s, during the Second Seminole War.  Shot at Silver Springs. Cooper and Aldon, the stars of Distant Drums, during filming at Silver Springs, Florida.  Image Number: PR10431

Lloyd Bridges (c. 1960). Image Number: PR10430. Sea Hunt was a syndicated action-adventure television show that first aired between 1958 and 1962 (filmed 1957-1961) and starred Lloyd Bridges (1913-1998). Produced by Ivan Tors Studios (based in Miami) it filmed in large part in Florida (especially at Silver Springs, as in this image), as well as in California.

Newt Perry, Johnny Sheffield and Johnny Weissmuller during filming of Tarzan Finds a Son! (1938). Image Number: RC13637. Newt Perry (on the left) was a popular swimmer who was instrumental in the production of several movies in Florida. A friend of Weismuller, Perry was at the time manager of Silver Springs and convinced MGM to film their newest Tarzan flick there. Two years later Perry managed Wakulla Springs where MGM filmed their next Tarzan film, Tarzan’s Secret Treasure (1941). He also got FSU-student and Wakulla Springs lifeguard Ricou Browning hired as the Gill Man in the Creature from the Black Lagoon. In 1948, he opened Weeki Wachee tourist attraction. Tarzan Finds a Son was filmed at Silver Springs, Florida.

Robert Cummings and Terry Moore of Barefoot Mailman (1951)  Image Number: PR10437. Postmarked December 22, 1947, Barefoot Mailman (1951) was directed by Earl McEvoy and written by James Gunn from the popular novel by Theodore Pratt. Starring Terry Moore and Robert Cummings, it was released by Columbia Pictures. Much of the filming took place at Silver Springs, Florida.



John Moran

David Moynahan

Jill Heinerth

Wes Skiles

Bruce Mozert  Along with Newt Perry, one of the pioneers of underwater photography and filmmaking.  In his 90’s, Mozert still works in his studio in Ocala, FL.

Alan Youngblood:   Email:

Jenny Adler

Kristi Bernot




**For a literary timeline with sources that span the 18th-20th centuries, be sure to read Cynthia Barnett’s North Florida’s Springs: The Fountainous Region in the “Literary Timeline” tab.


Springs Culture and Water Issues


Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Florida: The Long Frontier (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1967).


Jim A. Stevenson, My Journey in Florida’s State Parks: A Naturalist’s Memoir  (ISBN: 978-1-4675-8711-2).

An informative and entertaining set of short stories and essays of the evolution of Florida’s state parks from 1965-1989. Jim began writing these stories for his retired park service associates. Since the history of state park interpretation and resource management is not recorded elsewhere, he expanded it to inform the park rangers of today about the management of the parks during this 24 year period. It has since been adapted to be of interest to readers who enjoy our parks and nature in general. Jim began his career as a park ranger and later became the chief naturalist of the state park system. Prior to his retirement in 2003, he became the Department of Environmental Protection’s lead on the protection of Florida’s springs. He continues that effort today through tours and presentations and serving on the board of directors of the Florida Springs Institute and the Wakulla Springs Alliance.


Cynthia Barnett

One of America’s foremost water journalists, Barnett’s awards include a national Sigma Delta Chi prize for investigative magazine reporting and eight Green Eyeshades, which recognize outstanding journalism in the Southeast. Her first book, Mirage: Florida and the Vanishing Water of the Eastern U.S., won the gold medal for best nonfiction in the Florida Book Awards and was a “One Region/One Book” selection in thirty Florida counties. See her website for a more extensive bibliography.

Cynthia Barnett, Mirage: Florida and the Vanishing Water of the Eastern U.S. (2007). 

Mirage has been compared to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Marjorie Stoneman Douglas’ River of Grass.  A rigorous look at the relentless pressure of development and burgeoning human populations on natural water supplies, particularly in the wetlands of Florida, Barnett makes the case that America’s belief in a cheap and unlimited water supply is an illusion.  This is a must-read for anyone who cares about water and the future of Florida.

Cynthia Barnett, Blue Revolution: Unmaking America’s Water Crisis (2011)

Reporting from across the country and around the globe, Barnett shows how people, businesses, and governments have come together to dramatically reduce water use and reverse the water crisis.

Blue Revolution exposes the truth about the water crisis—driven not as much by lawn sprinklers as by a tradition that has encouraged everyone, from homeowners to farmers to utilities, to tap more and more. But the book also offers much reason for hope. Award-winning journalist Cynthia Barnett argues that the best solution is also the simplest and least expensive: a water ethic for America. Just as the green movement helped build awareness about energy and sustainability, so a blue movement will reconnect Americans to their water, helping us value and conserve our most life-giving resource. Avoiding past mistakes, living within our water means, and turning to “local water” as we do local foods are all part of this new, blue revolution. The first book to call for a national water ethic, Blue Revolution is also a powerful meditation on water and community in America.

Cynthia Barnett, A Water Ethic for Florida,

Cynthia Barnett, Agriculture: Growing Numbers,


Margaret Ross Tolbert

Margaret Ross Tolbert, Aquiferious (2010)

Twelve North Florida Springs and the great aquifer that feeds them are featured in this beautiful book, which won the Florida Book Awards gold medal for non-fiction.  AQUIFERIOUS includes Tolbert’s luminous paintings and poetry, photographs, artistic cave maps, essays and scientific articles from thirteen contributors that recount a world of fantastic life forms, extreme cave diving, history, literature and science, including threats of rising pollution and decreasing springs flows.   Creative, passionate, poetic and scientific, this book is another must read for art, springs and water lovers.


Bill Belleville

Bill Belleville is a Florida-based author and documentary filmmaker specializing in nature, conservation, and “sense of place.” His genre is creative non-fiction. In November 2011, Salvaging won a National Outdoor Book Award for the category of Natural History Literature and Losing it all to Sprawl was named one of the “Best Books of the Year” by the Library Journal.  In addition to his own six books, Belleville has also contributed essays and articles to several national anthologies.

Bill Belleville, Salvaging the Real Florida: Lost & Found in the State of Dreams (2011)

Bill Belleville and Jim Robison, Along the Wekiva River (2009)

Bill Belleville, Rediscovering Rawlings, a River and Time  (2008)

Bill Belleville, River of Lakes: A Journey on Florida’s St. John’s River (2001)


Rick Kilby

Rick Kilby, Finding the Fountain of Youth: Ponce de León and Florida’s Magical Waters (2013)

Juan Ponce de León reached the shores of Florida on April 2, 1513. Although the myth of the conquistador’s quest for the fountain of youth was debunked long ago, his fabled search remains inextricably tied to the image of the Sunshine State.

Featuring reproductions of hundreds of eye-catching postcards, vintage advertisements, vibrant photos, and other “Ponceabilia,” Finding the Fountain Youth reveals how Florida itself has been transformed into a veritable fountain of youth, a paradisiacal playground, a utopia of rejuvenating springs and supple mermaids. Moving beyond advertising and kitsch, Kilby carries the story into the present day, addressing the very real problem of protecting Florida’s fragile springs and aquifers.

Rick Kilby is a graphic designer living in Orlando, Florida, and president of Kilby Creative.  See his blog, Visual Ephemera, below.

BLOG:  “Visual Ephemera: Musings from the State I’m In” documents my explorations of Florida’s historical, cultural and environmental resources. From the Sunshine State’s kitschy roadside attractions to its awe-inspiring natural wonders, I’m drawn to all that is unique about our wonderful peninsula. My goal is to create more awareness so that others will be inspired to see the world around them in a new way.


Lars Andersen

Lars Andersen, Paynes Prairie: the Great Savanna: A History and Guide (2003)

Andersen traces a history that spans millions of years and a multitude of key players and events.  Large numbers of some of the most fearsome and tremendous prehistoric beasts roamed this area.  Paleoindians set the stage for later inhabitants, including the Calusa, Timucua, Creeks and Seminoles.  Spanish, French, British and American settlers lived here, too.  Today, this fascinating place is Paynes Prairie State Preserve. Andersen’s lifelong love of outdoor exploration began with his childhood forays into the remotest reaches of Paynes Prairie. Today he guides nature and history tours of nearly 30 north Florida natural areas for Adventure Outpost in High Springs, Florida.


John Moran

John Moran, Journal of Light: The Visual diary of a Florida Nature Photographer (2004)

In wonder and gratitude, prize-winning photographer John Moran travels the Sunshine State with his cameras, seeking his vision of natural Florida as it must have appeared to Ponce de Leon and other early strangers in paradise. This remarkable collection of images and essays celebrates the magic of a landscape born of water, he writes, and “blessed with beauty beyond measure.”


Archie Carr, A Naturalist in Florida: A Celebration of Eden (2004)

Archie Carr (1909-1987) was an eminent naturalist, writer, conservationist, and world authority on sea turtles. Throughout his life he wrote on many aspects of natural history, but he was particularly entranced by the wildlife and ecosystems of Florida, where he lived for more than fifty years.  This book includes chapters on the Suwannee River and springs.


Doug Stamm and Timothy T. Whitney, The Springs of Florida (2008 edition)

A natural history field guide for divers, snorkelers, paddlers, and visitors to Florida’s legendary springs. Doug Stamm has photographed in the depths of lakes, oceans, springs and rivers, including with Cousteau’s team beneath winter ice in the Mississippi River. “A perceptive and beautifully illustrated treatment of Florida’s most spectacular natural asset.” — Archie Carr


Gary Monroe, Silver Springs: The Underwater Photography of Bruce Mozert (2008)

During the heyday of Florida theme parks, Bruce Mozert created some of the most memorable kitsch photography of the era. His underwater shots of beautiful models in crystal-clear waters were sent out on wire services and helped establish Silver Springs as Florida’s premier tourist attraction. In the 1950s, his work helped lure the postwar generation to a land of fantastic, tropical, and mass-produced amusement.

Gary Monroe, The Highwaymen: Florida’s African-American Landscape Painters (2001)

The Highwaymen introduces a group of young black artists who painted their way out of the despair awaiting them in citrus groves and packing houses of 1950s Florida. As their story recaptures the imagination of Floridians and their paintings fetch ever-escalating prices, the legacy of their freshly conceived landscapes exerts a new and powerful influence on the popular conception of the Sunshine State.

Gary Monroe, Harold Newton: The Original Highwayman (2007)

Harold Newton was an unrecognized vagabond artist who not only captured the beauty of the Florida landscape but transformed it with an artistry that invoked its drama of light, color, and form while hinting at its dark, primordial forces. One of his fellow Highwaymen once observed of his work, “It don’t have to be signed to know it’s a Newton.” Combining samples of his paintings with biographical details and reminiscences of family members, customers, and fellow Highwaymen, Gary Monroe creates an homage to the man whose work contributed perhaps more than anyone else’s to shaping the romantic imagery and identity of modern Florida.


Craig Pittman

For an accurate journalistic overview of the health of Florida’s springs, be sure to read Craig Pittman’s recent series: Florida’s Vanishing Springs

Craig Pittman, Manatee Insanity: Inside the War over Florida’s Most Endangered Species (2010)

Manatee Insanity provides the first in-depth history of the attempts to provide legal protection for the manatee. Along the way, Pittman takes a close look at the major and minor players in the dispute, from Jacques-Yves Cousteau to Jeb Bush, from Jimmy Buffett to O. J. Simpson, from a popular children’s book author to a federal lawman who dressed in a gorilla suit for the ultimate undercover assignment.


Tom Swihart

Tom Swihart, Florida’s Water: A Valuable Resource in a Vulnerable State (2011)

The Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services claims that agriculture is Florida’s second-largest industry, generating more than $100 billion a year in economic impact, but retired DEP water policy chief Tom Swihart says that agriculture uses nearly half of Florida’s water but generates only about 1.5% of gross state product.


Lu Vickers, Weeki Wachee City of Mermaids: A History of One of Florida’s Oldest Roadside Attractions (2007)

Founded in 1947 by Walton Hall Smith and Newt Perry, Weeki Wachee and its featured attraction, mermaids, combined the allure of pinup girls with the wholesome talents of variety entertainers to create a daily schedule of underwater acts ranging from eating bananas and performing ballet to staging underwater musicals. For nearly 60 years, these mermaids with their underwater talents have attracted crowds of vacationers, film crews, and celebrities. Drawing on extensive archival research as well as interviews with dozens of mermaids and other park employees, Vickers traces the park’s rise to prominence. Brilliantly illustrated with 250 stunning photos, the resulting work shows what it was like to be a mermaid at Weeki Wachee in its heyday.

Lu Vickers, Weeki Wachee Mermaids: Thirty Years of Underwater Photography (2012)

Weeki Wachee Mermaids features rare, never-before-published vintage photographs, postcards, and publicity shots taken over a thirty year period, starting with the first performance in 1947 and ending with the extravagant “underwater Broadway” shows created by the corporate owners of ABC-TV. The water was so clear, and the scenarios so cleverly straightforward that audiences initially doubted that the show was really underwater, and newspaper editors across the country suspected the photographs might be fake.  Lu Vickers’s accompanying text retraces the origins of the attraction, particularly the ways that entrepreneur and underwater photography pioneer Newt Perry set Weeki Wachee apart from all the other springs in Florida.


Susan Cerulean, Janisse Ray, Laura Newton (Red Hills Writers Project), Between Two Rivers:  Stories from the Red Hills to the Gulf (2004).

Thirty leading naturalists and writers survey the fabulous geographies of north Florida’s Gulf Coast and the Red Hills of southwest Georgia.


Tim Hollis, Glass Bottom Boats and Mermaids Tales: Florida’s Tourist Springs (2006).  Glass bottom boats, mermaids, underwater performances, petting zoos–Florida’s tourist industry began with the attractions that developed around the state’s natural springs. This quintessential roadside book tells the story of how Florida’s natural wonders were first developed as tourist attractions, leading to the booming theme-park era of today.


David Tegeder and Steven Noll, Ditch of Dreams:  The Cross Florida Barge Canal and the Struggle for Florida’s Future (2009)

For centuries, men dreamed of cutting a canal across the Florida peninsula. Intended to reduce shipping times, it was championed in the early twentieth century as a way to make the mostly rural state a center of national commerce and trade.  Steven Noll and David Tegeder trace the twists and turns of the project through the years, drawing on a wealth of archival and primary sources. Far from being a simplistic morality tale of good environmentalists versus evil canal developers, the story of the Cross Florida Barge Canal is a complex one of competing interests amid the changing political landscape of modern Florida. Thanks to the unprecedented success of environmental citizen activists, construction was halted in 1971, though it took another twenty years for the project to be canceled. Though the land intended for the canal was deeded to the state and converted into the Cross Florida Greenway, certain aspects of the dispute–including the fate of Rodman Reservoir–have yet to be resolved.


Domini Brown, Visibility, Forever (2014).  A creative non-fiction essay about experiencing Ginnie Springs for its beauty and majesty:


North Florida’s Springs: The Fountainous Region

A literary timeline for the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries



In the late 1700s, a naturalist-writer from Pennsylvania named William Bartram journeyed through the American South, sketching places and writing up his impressions with poetic ardor. He was especially entranced by what he found in North Florida in 1774, traveling between the St. Johns River and the Alachua Savannah, what we now call Paynes Prairie. He called this the fountainous region.

His account of the journey is known as Bartram’s Travels. At Manatee Springs, 45 miles west of Gainesville, the book describes a “grand fountain” with “astonishing ebullition,” water bubbling “perpendicular upwards.”

Bartram also sees spring water shooting up with “amazing ebullition” at Salt Springs, about 55 miles southeast of Gainesville, in what is now Ocala National Forest. There, he wrote, “the waters are thrown up in such abundance and amazing force, as to jet and swell up two or three feet above the common surface: white sand and small particles of shells are thrown up with the waters.”

Soon after its publication in 1791, the English poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge became enamored with Bartram’s Travels. He read the book frequently, traveled with it, recommended it to friends, jotted intriguing notes about it in his journals.

He dreamed about it as well – in a famous, opium-inspired slumber from which he awoke to compose one of the most influential poems in the English language. That poem is Kubla Khan. Coleridge had fallen asleep reading about Xanadu, the summer palace of the Mongol ruler and Emperor of China, Kublai Khan. When he woke, he started to write lines that had come to him in a dream:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure-dome decree:

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea.

Literary scholars trace Coleridge’s ‘caverns measureless to man’ to Bartram’s descriptions of the springs of North Florida. They’ve linked Coleridge’s sacred river to Salt Springs Run. And they can show how Bartram’s buoyant descriptions at Manatee and Salt springs shape this key section of Kubla Khan:

 And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,

As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,

A mighty fountain momently was forced:

Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst

Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,

Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:

And ‘mid these dancing rocks at once and ever

It flung up momently the sacred river

Five miles meandering with a mazy motion

Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,

Then reached the caverns measureless to man …

Who knew: The springs of North Florida inspired the poem that helped launch the Romantic Movement!


Struggling to find work in the 1870s, the Southern poet Sidney Lanier took an assignment from the Great Atlantic Coastline Railroad to write a tourists’ guide to Florida. Florida: Its Scenery, Climate and History (with a chapter for consumptives) is not known for literary restraint. But one of Lanier’s “astonishments” about our state were his floats on Silver and Waukulla springs. His impressions having traveled down the Ocklawaha River to Silver Spring Run and the brilliant spring pool:

“As one rises from gazing into these quaint profundities and glances across the broad surface of the spring, one’s eye is met by a charming mosaic of brilliant hues. The water-plain varies in color, according to what it lies upon. Over the pure white limestone and shells of the bottom it is perfect malachite green; over the water-grass it is a much darker green; over the sombre moss it is that rich brown-and-green which Bodme-r’s forest-engravings so vividly suggest; over neutral bottoms it reflects the sky’s or the clouds’ colors. All these views are further varied by mixture with the manifold shades of foliage-reflections cast from overhanging boscage near the shore, and still firther by the angle of the observer’s eye.

“One would think these elements of color-variation were numerous enough; but they were not nearly all. Presently the splash of an oar in a distant part of the spring sent a succession of ripples circling over the pool. Instantly it broke into a thousand-fold prism. Every ripple was a long curve of variegated sheen. The fundamental hues of the pool when at rest were distributed into innumerable kaleidoscopic flashes and brilliancies, the multitudes of fish became multitudes of animated gems, and the prismatic lights seemed actually to waver and play through their translucent bodies, until the whole spring, in a great blaze of sunlight, shone like an enormous fluid jewel that without decreasing forever lapsed away upward in successive exhalations of dissolving sheens and glittering colors.”

Later, on the Tallahassee leg of his Florida journey, Lanier finds “one of the most wonderful springs in the world – the famous Wakulla Spring, which sends off a river from its single outburst.”

The road out to Wakulla was uninteresting, Lanier wrote, “but once arrived and afloat on its bosom, one renews the pleasures which have been hereinbefore described in what was said of Silver Spring. Like that, the water here, which is similarly impregnated with lime, is thrillingly transparent; here one finds again the mosaic of many-shaded green hues ….”

“As one slowly floats face downward, one perceives, at first dimly, then more clearly, a great ledge of white rock which juts up to within perhaps fifty feet of the surface, from beneath which the fish come swimming as if out of the gaping mouth of a great cave. Looking down past the upper part of this ledge, down, down through the miraculous lymph, which impresses you at once as an abstraction and as a concrete substance, to the white concave bottom where you can plainly see a sort of “trouble in the ground” as the water bursts up from its mysterious channel, one feels more than ever that sensation of depth itself wrought into a substantial embodiment ….”


In 1928, after living in the urban north for all of her 32 years, the writer Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings bought an old farmhouse and a three-thousand-tree citrus grove in the marshy backwoods of North Florida, sight-unseen. She was not yet famous, not even close. She quit her newspaper job in Rochester, New York, settled her affairs there, and moved to the place that would make her so: Cross Creek.

Cross Creek would prove so inspirational to Rawlings that she went on to create her best work in long periods of solitude there, writing on her front porch with a pack of Lucky Strikes beside her Royal typewriter. She was inspired by our nearby springs, as well. One hundred and fifty years after Bartram described the “nations of fish” swimming up what we now call Salt Springs Run, Rawlings, bunking with a local family in the woods of what is now Ocala National Forest, gave the same spring magical importance to the relationship between a boy and a fawn in her novel The Yearling, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1939.

Rawlings summed up our region in this line from Cross Creek: “I do not know how anyone can live without some small place of enchantment to turn to.”

In 1967, Miami journalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas signed a contract with Harper & Row publishers to write the Florida book in its series Regions of America. In the first chapter of Florida: The Long Frontier, she outlines the geography of Florida’s land and freshwater, which “burst and bubbled in multitudes of clear springs.”

“Basins of rock and sand held them like bowls of liquid light. Fresh water rises and falls mysteriously in grassy or rocky sinkholes. The springs spill over into swamps and rivers; the Wakulla from the great Wakulla Springs south of Tallahassee, the Oklawaha that flows into the St. Johns from the great clear boiling basin of Silver Springs. The Aucilla, the Steinhatchee, the north-flowing Withlachoochee all flow westward from spring-fed swamps.”

“Most strange and beautiful of all, the seeping water has worked grottoes and hidden caverns in the limestone, like those at Marianna, stained soft rose color by the constant dripping of fresh water through red surface soil. It makes long hanging stalactites and upward-growing spurs and fantastic spines of stalagmites among the basins and runlets in a constant dripping, dropping, of pure, sterile water. In a sudden flash of light all this rock and water glitters in rose and crystal in the lifeless darkness of the earth.

“The springs of fresh water have made more than three thousand lakes and ponds, blue and crystal, innumerable mirrors flashing everywhere to the sky, down all the central ridge of Florida.”

When she finished her book, Marjory Stoneman Douglas dedicated it this way: “To all who fight for a beautiful and better FLORIDA.”

Sources and additional resources

Carolyn Alexander, The Way to Xanadu: Journeys to a Legendary Realm (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994).

Cynthia Barnett, “Springs as Hypertext,” University of Florida TED Talk, February 11th 2012.

William Bartram, William Bartram: Travels and Other Writings, Thomas Slaughter, editor (New York: Library of America, 1996).

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Kubla Khan, 1816.

Marjory Stoneman Dougas, Florida: The Long Frontier (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1967).

Sidney Lanier, Florida: its scenery, climate, and history. With an account of Charleston, Savannah, Augusta, and Aiken; a chapter for consumptives; various papers on fruit-culture; and a complete hand-book and guide. (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co, 1876).

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Cross Creek (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1942).

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, The Yearling (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1938).

For a list with more 21st century references, including Al Burt’s poignant 2003 appeal to Floridians to care for the springs and Joe Clark’s memorable poem Sink Hole, check out Joe Follman’s project,

This is a work in progress, compiled by Cynthia Barnett. Harriett Beecher Stowe and others to come. Please email Cynthia your additions, corrections and other updates at