|Way Down Upon the Suwanee River
||[Mar. 14th, 2010|09:03 pm]
From Rainbow Springs State Park in Dunellon we drove up to White Springs, FL, in the north of the state, convenient for the next leg of the journey across the Florida panhandle and eventually to Louisiana. The drive was a pleasant jaunt across rolling hills and more horse country. The cats are getting spoiled (me too) with the short drives in this segment of the trip; since we left the Keys our longest driving day has been 147 miles, versus driving days in the 400 to 500 mile range out West last year.
Now that we are northerly in Florida, campground spaces are a little easier to find, and we were able to reserve a week-long stay at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park (hereinafter referred to as ‘the park’ for brevity’s sake.) The park is one of three local campgrounds on the Suwannee River, and it is beautiful. We pulled up to the gate house, a pretty old-fashioned brick building, in time to hear the carillon on the property begin to chime. It’s a 97 bell carillon in a brick tower, supposed to be the world’s largest tubular bell instrument. It’s automated, playing sets of Stephen Foster songs four times a day from brass rollers which are changed daily. The music floats over the campground, audible but not overwhelming, at 10, 12, 2, and 4, and the bell tower also chimes the hours in the old standard Westminster Quarters.
We were happy to have some quiet time and this park was perfect for that. The campground is heavily wooded and the spaces are large and private. We got caught up on our rest and also the laundry, and had time to tour the carillon and the Stephen Foster Museum on site. The museum is a modern building constructed in antique plantation style. Inside, it is three rooms of intricate dioramas of Stephen Foster songs, with some original sheet music and some furnishings from Stephen Foster’s life and era. But the real star is the dioramas. In each small display detailed scenes play out. Horses race round the track in Camptown Races, coming across the back stretch in smaller scale than in the front. Steamboats go down the river and cabin chimneys smoke in perfect miniature.
I was bemused to find out just how many songs Stephen Foster had written, and how many of them were familiar to me. Camptown Races, Oh! Susanna, Old Kentucky Home, Hard Times Come Again No More, Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair (written for his wife), Swannee River (correct title Old Folks at Home) among others. And it was even more interesting to learn that he never set foot in Florida, nor saw the Suwannee River. The story goes that the song he was writing needed a two syllable river in the South. He tried Pedee (in North Carolina) but it didn’t scan well, so he went to his brother in law’s office for advice and with the help of a map the two of them came up with “Swannee”, and the rest is history (and the museum has that office desk in pride of place.)
The Folk Culture part of the park’s name comes from the crafting cabins adjacent to the gift shop and the regular events held in the park. The crafting cabins are let out to crafters from all over to demonstrate their work and display their wares for sale. Things were slow while we were there, not too many people in residence, but we did have a nice chat with the needleworker in one of the cabins. We also got to see a little of a prehistoric crafts encampment which went on while we were there. They had vendors and demonstrations of flint knapping and atlatl throwing, complete with a competition sanctioned by the national atlatl league. Did you know there was a national atlatl league? Neither did I! Travel certainly is broadening.