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97 Bells, Mother of Pearl Keys and the Jeannie Competition

Saturday April 12, 2013
Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park
White Springs, Florida


Saturday April 12


Other than the river, the two star attractions at Stephen Foster are the Bell Tower and the Museum.  Today we spend some time learning about them and about the name sake of this park.

Nothing is too far away to walk to from the campground but it is also a great place to ride bikes.  Paved roads to everywhere and very little traffic even in the little town of White Springs which is literally outside the park’s gates.




The bell tower houses a 97 bell Carillion which is the worlds’ largest tubular Carillion. It was installed in 1957 and plays Westminster chimes from 8am to 8pm and a concert of Foster’s songs at 10, 12, 2 and 4 each day.  Sounds hokey but it’s really not.  It adds a great deal to the languid atmosphere.

In the beautiful marble ground floor of the tower are exhibits about the Carillion, the Carillion console for trained players and the automatic player which uses rolls like a player piano. There are also sample letters and music from Foster and a “Jeannie” gown worn by the winner in the 1950’s.  There are also 2 dioramas.  More about both of those later.

The architectural details in this room are outstanding. 









The diorama cabinetry both here and in the museum is gorgeous.  Seems we don’t create anything this beautiful any more.





I sure have enjoyed the bells.  I will really miss them.





We actually come back to the museum a second time to take the tour which turns out to be a great decision.





The Museum is a beautiful anti-bellum building created in the 1950’s specifically to house a collection of antique pianos and Foster artifacts.

The docent Pat gives a terrific tour at 10:30 and 2:30 several days a week. She is a storehouse of knowledge about Foster and the things in the museum.

I had no idea Foster had written over 200 compositions including lots of things we are all familiar with in addition to My Old Kentucky Home and Way Down Upon the Suwannee River. He wrote Camptown Races, Oh! Susannah, Beautiful Dreamer and Jeannie with Light Brown Hair just to name a few.





 The museum has a very informative film that should be seen first if you can tear yourself away from its beautiful rooms rooms. 

On another note from yesterday’s post, the museum also has a copy of Wes Stiles “Water’s Journey” PBS documentary that you can view by choosing disk 3, the 30 minute version.  It is really worth seeing.




In honor of Foster’s “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair” female vocalists have competed for the past 60 years for scholarships and the title of “Jeannie”, outstanding vocalist in Florida. Of course recently they have added a “Stephen” competition as well. The participants dress in anti-bellum gowns and suits. It’s quite a big deal in October.  There are pictures of the winners in their finery in the museum and a sample dress in the Bell Tower (above).






We love the dioramas’ wonderful moving parts.





The museum is very interesting and particularly the 8 dioramas which were also created in the 50’s and have many moving parts in each one. The horses race around the track in Camptown Races. Riverboats cruise, banjo players tap their feet, dogs wag their tails. They are the best dioramas either of us have ever seen.  You cannot appreciate the amazing detail or see the movements both obvious and subtle in the pictures.  You really have to see them for yourself.  Put it on your list and make sure you do Pat’s tour.  She’s a wealth of knowledge.






Because we showed such interest in the diorama’s, Pat let us see behind one of them to see the old gears and wheels and belts.   You can see the river boat riding around below on its belt before it is pulled up to move across the back of the diorama on the Suwannee River.  There are actually two boats so it won’t take so long for one to get around.

I really hope the state will take care of these wonderful pieces and the beautiful buildings in which they are housed.  There is clearly some maintenance that needs to be done around the windows in the museum and to the roof of the Bell Tower.   There are wheels in the machinery of the diorama that need attention as well.  We are filling out a comment card to send reminding those in charge that visitors are watching how they spend their funds.








There are at least 4 pianofortes or pianos in each room.


Two of the piano fortes have mother of pearl keyboards and beautiful inlay on their backboards. They are gorgeous. The one shown here is from 1834. 





This 1907 Steinway Concert Grand has a very rare Von Janko keyboard created for a pianist with small hands. Boy would I have liked this when trying to play octave stretches or anything written by Chopin.








After being inside for some time, we need some outside time so we walk back down to the Gazebo to see the river level again.  Being right on the river, it’s a lovely spot to just sit and enjoy. 





It’s a campfire but it isn’t after dark.


We end the day with a campfire program on turtles and tortoises of which Florida has a mighty many different ones. Unlike all the federal parks we’ve been to, most of the state parks do not have evening campfire programs but Stephen Foster has them at 7:00 on non festival Saturday nights which now, thanks to DST, is not after dark.




  1. What a special park! Thanks for the great tour. I look forward to spending time there one day.

  2. I doubt I'll ever get there, but enjoyed your tour of the park. I always like those presentations at state and national parks.

  3. I thought you hated DST ... fickle

    Great looking campfire and a great museum. fascinating ... and great pictures as always!

    1. I don't hate DST. Just pick one ST or DST, I don't care. Just don't change. But it does seem campfires should be in the DARK.

  4. You never cease to amaze me at the fascinating places you seem to find. I think there is a lesson here for me to slow down and explore my surroundings more deeply. We flitted right by all the museums there with no idea of the treasures we were missing. Thank you for reminding me to slow down and take time to appreciate some of the less popular attractions along the way.

  5. We have seen the Dioramas and heard the bells...both are WONDERFUL!!! It is absolutely a lovely park. Now if we could just paddle the Suwannee;o))

    1. The life long resident who was manning the tourism center says any time but March, April or May will probably do it unless the river gets too low. LOL

  6. Good tour, I had forgotten that we had been there until I saw your pictures:)

  7. Dioramas are always a favorite part of any museum visit .. but I don't recall ever seeing ones with moving parts.

  8. If only we could flit between California and Florida, we'd have a great time! So much to see and learn and so little time to do it.

  9. I especially loved this post on SFFCC. We've only been day visitors there, but want to spend a few days. I love the bells and we enjoyed the beautiful museum with the dioramas.

    I agree with Pam (Big Ez) that you two really, really explore each place you go to and get the most of it. There is so much to see and do at SFFCC that I know you'll have trouble seeing it all in your short stay there. I guess you'll have to come back. :)

    I may be dense, but what is DST? ST?

    Sorry the river isn't cooperating for you. I know you will enjoy paddling it one day.

  10. I am thinking we need to stop here on our way back to Florida.

  11. Gee, where did all those people sitting around the campfire come from? All your earlier pics of the tours and walks make it appear as if you two are the only folks there. Probably like so many of the tourists up here in my neck of the woods.....drive through the park and never get out of the car to explore. Wonder how many of those folks at the campfire never see the gorgeous dioramas or enjoy Pat's marvelous tour?

  12. I enjoyed this post! I imagine I would have loved the bells and the museum. Such gleaming floors...mother of pearl keys; you don't see that anymore! Neat diaramas. I could have spent all day. I hope the State keeps caring for it. That 'jeannie' tradition sounds cool.

  13. Didn't realize how pessimistic that comment seemed until I reread it. Didn't mean it to sound that way. It just surprised me when I got to your last pic of the campfire and saw all those people gathered around it! Maybe you were crafty with your photography, but I never saw anyone else in your pics inside the museums. I thought you all were there all by yourself! LOL!

  14. I absolutely love carrilions! How cool that there is one in that park to enjoy, the music wafting in the wind, wonderful! What a great museum, and the dioramas are too cool as well. Thanks for sharing.

  15. What a beautiful museum, you always seem to find the best places. One of the reason we enjoy seeing old homes is for the craftsmanship which seems to be rapidly disappearing. Thanks again for an awesome tour.

  16. We've stayed at Suwanee River SP but not at SF. Looks like an interesting park. You're right, White Springs is a great area for cycling.

  17. I wonder if you continued to hear the bells after you moved on. I usually hear the fog horn for a day or two after leaving Bodega Bay :-). There are still wonderful artisans who build beautiful pieces, but unfortunately consumers want it in days and don't want to wait the months or year it might take to complete them. Perhaps another "slow down" lesson......

  18. Loved those old time pianos. It would have been very hard not to have tickled the ivories... :c)

  19. LOVE the dioramas, especially with moving parts. They're really not made any more. The Mesa Verde museum has some built by the CCC but no moving parts. Great tour.

    BTW, our campfire program at 7pm in the summer is also pretty light out, but at the same time in spring and fall it's dark. Whatcha' gonna' do.


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