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Day 137 - Stephen Foster & Sinkholes (Photo's Added)

We visited the Suwannee River, where Florida has set up a State Park to honor Stephen Foster, then Leon Sinks Geologic Area.

overcast 63 °F

One of the things Mom noticed when we first got to Florida a couple of weeks ago was a Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park. She is a big Stephen Foster fan, but at that time we were heading straight to Miami and didn't take the time to stop at much of anything. This morning however, we realized that we were again close to it so decided to check it out.

Stephen Foster, 1826 - 1864, was the first great American songwriter. His compositions include songs such as Oh! Susanna, Camptown Races, My Old Kentucky Home, Beautiful Dreamer, I Dream of Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair, and Old Folks at Home (Swanee River). This last song became the Florida State Song and inspired the Center and State Park. Even though Foster never visited the state, so many people started coming to Florida to look for the river from the song, so the state decided to set up a center to honor the composer and highlight the river and folk culture.

Since Foster didn't really have any direct connections to the state, the Stephen Foster Center is set up with a slightly broader focus as a Folk Arts center and sponsers a number of different Folk Art's, including music, quilting and other such things. They do have a museum devoted to Stephen Foster. It is housed in a stately, southern style building.


They don't have very many things directly connected to Mr. Foster. One exception is this desk that belonged to his older brother. He was staying with his brother when he wrote "Old Folks at Home" (aka Swanee) and the family lore is that this is the desk he wrote it on.


Interestingly, the song originally was written as "Way down upon the Pedee River". Foster didn't like the sound of this and asked his brother for help finding a southern river with a more lyrical name. They pulled down and Atlas and looked it over until finding the Suwannee River in Florida. Foster immediately knew this was the name he wanted, but changed the spelling slightly to Swanee (artistic license?). A review committee selected this stretch of the river as one of the most scenic for the SP, a decision with which I would have to concur.


The museum also has a collection of pianoforte's and piano's, most of which were donations of antique instruments which don't necessarily have anything to do with Stephen Foster except that they come from the same time frame. This one was particularly interesting (to Mom and I anyway) because of the beautiful mother of pearl key's.


The major feature of the museum however are the ten large diorama's, each representing a theme from one of his songs. These are very well done, many with moving figures or buildings that have been adjusted to reflect the viewer's perspective (instead of building a scale model building with square corners, they are set at an angle to make it appear as a square, life sized building being viewed from afar.) Here are just two examples, the first representing "My Old Kentucky Home", the second a scene from a drawing room where Mr. Foster is composing "I Dream of Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair" as his dream reflects on the far wall. (Sorry about the small size, it's hard to capture a 6 foot wide diorama and compress it without loosing a lot of detail).



We finished visiting the museum shortly before Noon, which was also when the next concert was scheduled to be played on the Carillon. This is housed in a Tower built especially for the Carillon. The room at the base of the tower is lined with marble and houses a number of exhibits as well as the controls for the Carillon itself. It can either be played by the keyboard consule, housed in a small desk inside the marble columns, or by a player piano type device just to the right of the consule.


The Carillon was built by the J.C. Deagan Company from Chicago and installed in 1958. It consists of 97 Tubular Bells ranging from 3.5' to 12.5'. The bells are housed inside the tower of course, but you can get an idea of the instrument from this model. Also, a smaller tubular bell is set up in one of the exhibits so you can see what they look like.


There seem to be a couple of 'official' carillon organizations that don't list this instrument, probably because it has tubular bells instead of bell shaped bells (I couldn't quite tell from their web sites, but they seem to be a bit exclusionary). Based on the sound, I'd say Florida has a right to call this a carillon. But hey, we're talking about a musical instrument here! You can't really understand what this is without listening to it, can you? This is Virginia Belle, a Stephen Foster composition (as are all the songs played here).

After all of this, it was early afternoon and time to move on.

We started heading for Tallahassee on I-10, when I looked at Mom and at the map and said, "Why don't we head to the coast instead." To my surprise, she said she was thinking the same thing. We both felt we'd been in Florida too long and needed to get moving,, but we really do prefer driving on roads where we can see things. Interstates are great for making tracks, but not so great for seeing the sights.

So we turned off again on Hwy 319 just before Tallahassee and started south. Shortly thereafter we passed a brown sign (yes, you know what that means). This was for a place called "Leon Sinks". It is part of the Apalachicola National Forest and is referred to as a "Geological Area". The forest wasn't like I'm used to seeing from my home state of WA, but I guess qualifies as a National Forest for Florida?


The "Sinks" in the name comes from the many sinkholes that are found here. This area is part of a Karst Plain, which is terrain that rain and groundwater have changed by dissolving underlying limestone bedrock. Karsts can include sinkholes, swales, caverns, natural bridges, circular depressions and water table ponds.

It was fairly late and raining, so I only walked part of the way down the Sinkhole trail. Even so, I did pass several sinkholes. These weren't quite as impressive as the one I'd seen a few years ago in Gainesville, FL, but maybe it's just because I only walked part of the trail? The first few sinkholes were 'dry sinks', although with all the rain some had small ponds in the bottoms. This one is "Turner Sink". If you look carefully, you can tell that the water is in a depression below the level of the trail from which I took the picture.


I also walked as far as the first big 'wet' sink, Hammock Sink. The water color here can vary quite a bit as the weather changes, but scientists aren't sure why.



This one is especially interesting because below the edge shelf is an entrance to a vast, underground cave system. Cave Divers have mapped out several, large water filled rooms - one is big enough to fit a six story building! Hammock Sink is the sink basin shown in the top left on the diagram.



Casual swimming and diving is forbidden as the banks are very fragile and it's also quite dangerous (even experienced divers have been killed here). So I gave up on the temptation to jump in and just took a few pictures, then finally headed back.

We continued driving south and eventually came to a really nice RV campground just south of Panacea, Florida. It was blowing rain and wind all night, but we had a great view of the water and plenty of food, water and dry warmth in the rig, so got a pretty good nights sleep.


Miles Driven - 175
Camped at Holiday RV Park, Panacea, FL

Posted by jl98584 17:26 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel

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I hear you got slammed with coooolllld weather down there. so sorry, its 38 degrees here, no snow but its supposed to get windy later today when the real cold front comes down from Canada.
Maybe in key west its warmer? Puerto Rico? you didn't go far south enough....

by drque

Yes, it got pretty cold. We also had some nasty wind & rain for a day or two. Not any worse then back home, probably not as bad as a lot of places. Except for a couple of grouchy moments, we pretty much ignored it and continued to enjoy the trip. I kind of like it like this, gives a totally different kind of scenery & pictures then always sunny. Mom gets cold though and has a hard time warming up, so it hits her pretty hard. She's doing a good job bouncing back however.

by jl98584

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