They came from all over, seeking healing. Mostly by train and steamboat at first, then by auto. Florida’s mineral springs were believed to be a cure for bursitis, arthritis and a host of other ailments. Soak in the waters, drink the waters—tolerating a strong sulfur taste and odor—and you'll feel better than when you first arrived. That was the hope, anyhow. Bottles and jugs of the healing liquid were brought back home by the caseload to help see one through until the next visit.
Mineral springs are numerous in the Big Bend area. There is Newport Springs feeding into the St. Marks River about a mile above Outz’s Too on the upaved portion of Old Plank Road. Panacea Mineral Springs was once well known along with Hampton Springs near Perry. The Suwannee River region had White Sulphur Springs and Suwannee Springs. All had large hotels to house guests and closed-in spring houses. Testimonials of healing results from visitors were commonplace as the resorts vied for customers.
“Suwannee Springs, not far from Live Oak, is one of the most famous springs of Florida,” wrote Nevin O. Winter in 1918. “It is noted for its healing qualities, while the river itself is most charming with its wooded banks.”
The town of Panacea was founded around several small sulfuric springs in the late 1800s. Smith Springs was renamed “Panacea”, Greek for “healing all”, to sound more appealing to visitors, a trick that seemed to work. The 125-guest Panacea Hotel was built to house the numerous guests that came to bathe in the waters.
Hampton Springs featured the massive wooden Hotel Hampton and guaranteed its spring water for rheumatism, indigestion, dyspepsia, stomach, kidney, and bladder troubles, gastritis and skin diseases. Theodore Roosevelt was said to be a guest.
By the 1930s, as roads and railroads extended deeper into the Florida peninsula, tourists began to head farther south, and the spring resorts soon became relics of the past. Many of the old hotels burned down.
On a recent visit to Newport Springs, I waded into the cool clear water that bore a sharp odor of hydrogen sulfide. “I guess this is what you would call a sulfur spring,” I said to a man with his grandkids.
“This ain’t no sulfur spring,” he said. “This is stinky water!”
Still, it felt good, although there was no miraculous cure for my sore shoulder. I guess I needed to stay a few days and bring some of the water home, and maybe drink it by the gallon. I vowed to search for another cure.