Florida Museum of Natural History

Natural History & Early Tourism in Florida

Image Gallery 2

Images courtesy of the Florida State Photographic Archives
mocking birds

The garrulous mockingbird, state bird of Florida, illustrated here by John James Audubon, was popular among tourists, in part because of Audubon's famous image of the birds attacked by a rattlesnake. In 1875, the price for live mockingbirds in Jacksonville ranged from $10 to $500, depending upon how good a mocker the bird proved to be.

silver springs

As tourist steamers approached Silver Springs, they left the muddy waters of the Ocklawaha and entered the clear waters of Silver River, an upside-down world, in a detail of a ca.1888 photograph attributed to William H. Jackson, an influential photographer of the American West.


Tourists who arrived by train could stay at the conveniently located Silver Springs Hotel, shown here in a 1886 photograph by Stanley J. Morrow. A state-of-the-art hotel, fitted out with gas lights and Thomas Edison's newly invented electrical call bells, opened on January 25, 1886. Guests also enjoyed the musical orchestra and day trips by stage to Ocala and Gainesville.

great sink

This view of the Great Sink, or Disappearing Lake, just south of Gainesville, photographed ca.1902, shows the north rim of present-day Paynes Prairie State Preserve, located south of Gainesville in Alachua County. In 1774, the naturalist William Bartram (1739-1823)visited this great sinkhole as a guest of the Creek mico, Cowkeeper, whose people resided in the adjacent area then known as the Alachua Savanna. Note the photographer at work in the lower right and raised camp beds covered with mosquito nets in the center.


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william bartram

The naturalist, William Bartram, for whom Bartram Hall at the University of Florida is named, published the first description of the Alachua Savanna in 1791


in his famous book of Travels.


This map of the St Augustine region published in William Bartram's book of Travels and his route from the Carolinas, south through Georgia to North Florida beckoned many later naturalists and artists, from Titian Ramsay Peale and Thomas Say to John James Audubon and John Muir.

For late nineteenth-century travelers along the St Johns River, side trips were possible. A photograph taken near Barberville, ca.1890, by William Henry Jackson, shows one of many beautiful spring runs, rich with birds and other wildlife. John James Audubon visited nearby Spring Garden and the Bulow Plantation in 1831 to collect specimens for his Birds of America.


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The steamer Marion, with Captain Gray, approaches Iola Landing, on Ocklawaha River, ca.1875, in a photograph by Jerome N. Wilson. Small tourist steamers, no wider than 21 feet, could travel beyond Silver Springs up the Ocklawaha as far as Orange Springs, in present-day Marion County. Crowded and cramped as the quarters were on board, many ventured overnight passage. In May of 1874, the poet, Sidney Lanier (1842-81) booked overnight passage on the steamer Marion to Silver Springs. In 1875, in Florida: Its Scenery, Climate, and History, he wrote that he awoke next morning and felt "as new as Adam."

In 1875, Sidney Lanier's book about Florida included many fine illustrations, including a picture of the Alachua Sink, or Great Sink in Payne's Prairie. Lanier was a Confederate veteran, whose identification with the South and Reconstruction recommended his descriptions of Florida's natural beauty to many readers.

Lanier also had training in natural history. Before the Civil War, he attended Oglethorpe University in Midway, Georgia, where he met Professor James Woodrow, a student of the great naturalist, Louis Agassiz (1807-73) at Harvard University, in Cambridge, Mass.

Louis Agassiz adamantly opposed Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, but Woodrow's views on evolution, influenced also by German Romanticism, made a lasting impression upon the poetic Lanier. Interesting enough, an important collection of Louis Agassiz's books have been transferred to Special Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, at the University of Florida.

Captain Rise navigates the Okahumkee to Fort Brooke on the Ocklawaha River, April 17, 1876, photograph by Jerome N. Wilson and O. Pierre Havens. Fort Brooke, settled by small land holders displaced by the Civil War, had been the site of a Seminole attack in March of 1841. This landing, about 2 miles below Orange Springs, had a sulfur spring, but no accommodations. From Orange Springs, the end of the line, adventuresome tourists took a pole-barge with the mail up Orange Creek to Orange Lake in present-day Marion County.


Tourists enjoyed miles of fragrant orange groves, here at the unidentified community of Seville, in a ca.1890 photograph by William Henry Jackson


Photographers could not resist posed pictures like this Message Box at Sharpe's Ferry, ca. 1875, photograph by Jerome N. Wilson. "Swampers" like this man left letters in the cigar box nailed to a tree for any passerby to take to town. Many tourists enjoyed these rustic touches.


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ID Spring, ca.1895, photograph by J. A. Enseminger. Note the unusual hemmed garments of some members of this excursion party, posed like a Winslow Homer painting. Travelers arriving at Live Oak or Wellborn by rail took a daily stage to springs along the Suwannee River.


In Gainesville, Civil War veterans posed for an unidentified group portrait


and survivors of yellow fever, a real killer in dirty military camps of the South, were glad to be alive.


Waters from Paynes Prairie drain into the Great Sink of Bartram's Alachua Savanna and travel through porous limestone underground to the Suwannee River.


Bartram's Alachua Savanna, Paynes Prairie, shown here in dry conditions, as a landscape of flowers with a resident population of sandhill cranes.


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