Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

A “soft” opening and local history

Sunday March 10, 2013
Site 20, Blue Springs State Park
Orange City,  Florida
High 76 low 52



In the early morning today the water is much warmer than the air.  I love the mist that results.  But by mid morning it has warmed up enough and the manatee count is downSpring open for swimming 057 so the powers that be here have decided to do what they call a “soft” opening. 

The spring run is marked off in sections and they open for swimming and diving the upper section where the few manatee here are not swimming.

  However, if a manatee comes into that area, all swimmers have to get out.



I love it.  Manatees in, people out.

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In addition to swimmers, the snorkelers and scuba divers have come today look into or go down into the 110’ cave from which the spring erupts. 

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From this view point near the top of the boardwalk, I can see the spring boil very well.  The current swimming up is quite strong.  The divers have large flippers to help them make it. 


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You can walk part of the way up, the spring run is not deep but it is an obstacle course with rocks and fallen trees.  The water is clear if you aren’t moving but if you are, you can’t see. An interesting dilemma:  Walk and disturb the water, swim and fight the current.   Although I find the walking against the current is difficult swimming against it is more so.  When I’m not stroking, I’m going backwards. 


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But this flotilla of watercraft does not have flippers.   It is great fun watching this family try to get everyone into the rafts and tubes they have rented from the concessionaire who also rents kayaks, canoes and does a 2 hour informative boat tour down the St. John’s River.  The boat tour costs $22 for adults, $20 for Seniors, $16 for children.   We haven’t taken it yet but I have heard from numerous people that it is excellent.

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The flotilla makes it up all the way up and it looks like they are having a fine time.  As are other swimmers.  The water is 72 degrees, at least as warm as the air.

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Blue Spring is covered with stately oaks especially in the picnic area surrounding the Thursby House.   People are definitely out today enjoying their park even if they aren’t in the water.

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The Thursby house is located just off the boardwalk along the spring run.  It must have had a beautiful view of the run when it was first built by Louis Thursby in 1872 atop a Pre-Columbian Indian midden.  When later excavated the midden revealed an abundance of Native American artifacts.   In 1872, the landing provided an important shipping point which was used by both the St. Johns River steamboats and the railroad.  The landing is now the boat dock and part of the spring run.  The lawn is now used for sunbathing and picnicking.


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Thursby House Blue Spring 008


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The Thursbys were Blue Spring’s first permanent settlers.  Lewis Peace Thursby, his wife Mary Ann and infant daughter Mary Alice arrived from Brooklyn New York in 1856 via steamboat from Jacksonville and purchased 133 acres and a 3 room log cabin for $400.  Southwest of the house was a large grove of wild orange trees.

The Seminole Wars had removed most of the Indians from Florida and the upper St. Johns area.  This, like most Indian Removal was done after the Native Americans were repeatedly promised if they would move south the land would be theirs forever.  Such trusting people.  Their story is a sad one to read.  I recommend River of Grass by Marjorie Stoneman Douglas if you are interested in this history from a different view point than that generally presented in history texts.

The U.S. was offering land grants and by the mid 1850’s the town of Enterprise, about 10 miles south of Blue Spring had emerged as an important port on the St. Johns river.

Construction of the big house began in 1872.  It was made of Georgia Yellow Pine and roofed with hand-split cypress shingles.  On each floor 4 rooms opened into a central breezeway.

In 1880 the landing was built and Blue Spring became a regular stop between Jacksonville and Enterprise on the St. Johns River.  Five steamboats a day were running bringing mail, freight and tourists.

Things changed quickly as in 1881 a narrow gauge railroad was laid from the town of Orange City 4 miles away to Blue Spring.  This primitive railway was mule drawn and linked orange groves in Orange City with the boat traffic at Blue Spring.


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But by 1886 standard gauge had replaced the narrow gauge and Thursby’s landing was connected to the Florida East Coast Railway network.   In a few years, this put the steamboat out of business in Blue Spring.  By 1910 the landing was no longer a posted stop and only 4 steam boats a week passed by.

Lewis Thursby died in 1890 at the age of 62.  I was shocked to see his picture as I am now older than he was.   I sure hope I don’t look this old.  I assume that is Mary Ann with him.






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Here is a picture of her 10 years after his death.  And a map of the property five years later when her son John was living here.


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The house has been restored but not refurnished other than the kitchen.  I’m not sure why.  There is no docent but you can walk through the lower floor rooms at any time while the park is open. 




Judging from the materials used, the house is about the same vintage as our Greenfield Mountain Farm house.  The stair railings look identical.


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Plumbing and electricity was added to the house in 1945.  The Thursby family sold the house and it eventually fell into serious disrepair.  In 1972 100 years after its building, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection acquired the property to kick start its manatee protection program and the house was restored.  In 1983 house tours began and the house contained many antiques of the era.  These tours were still going on in 2004 according to one report I read.  But budget cutting to the park service forced the end of the tours and the furnished rooms other than the kitchen.  I wasn’t able to find anyone who knew why they removed the furnishings and the window and wall decorations.l  Still the house and the history of the family and property are very interesting to visit.   An added bonus to this beautiful place.


  1. I saw that there is to be a special on TV about saving the Manatee this week. I wasn't able to catch the dates and network but will watch out for it and send you an email if I see it again. they certainly are fascinating creatures.

  2. Do the Manatees actually come back into the pool if swimmers are there? I don't know anything about them so wasn't sure how scared they would be of people?
    Wouldn't you like to cook in that kitchen in 100 degree weather, with no AC. I just love touring those old houses. It amazes me how they lived in the olden days.

    1. We've been swimming with the Manatees several times in Florida and they aren't scared of people at all. You aren't supposed to harass them, but if they come up to you they can "pet themselves" on you and it happened all the time. I kept having one come up under me (repeatedly, mind you, so it wasn't an accident) so that I was almost sitting or standing on him. I'd move away a bit but he'd come slide up under me again. They come right up to you and blow in your face or against your hands. Their friendliness and lack of fear are part of what makes people dangerous for them. It's a great experience. Smiles

  3. Looks like you are enjoying Blue Springs. I guess I will never get in the Springs as 72 degrees does not appeal to me;o((

  4. Very good writing Sherry it was a great read.....

  5. Great post- those early Florida residents were a tough bunch of folks.

  6. Sounds like a lovely place...the water temp sounds very refreshing! We heard that over 181 manatees have died this year already from red tide. The red tide is bad in southwestern Florida.

  7. I'm with Nancy and Bill....72 degrees to me is full wet-suit weather!

    I hope you got a chance to swim before you left.

  8. Looks like the people were out and about in such a pretty place living it up! I loved the mist picture at the beginning. Well done history of the Thursbys - the picture of dad on the stairs - wow, quite similar, although I think our wood is actually darker and more polished looking, but maybe that's just me ;)

  9. Wonderful photos of the beautiful, crystal clear springs. It sounds a little cool for me though and I'm still a bit leery of going in any water down there because of all the alligators that seem to lurk everywhere.

  10. Great photos, and what a house! I absolutely love the cook stove in the kitchen.

  11. Lovely pict5ures as usual. Funny, Mary Ann looks much younger and prettier in the second picture. Maybe her husband was making her old before her time? ;c)

  12. gorgeous pictures...I'd get in there no problem...72 is nice weather for this little old canadian....we are hoping to go see the manatees next week :)


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