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Steven Foster State Park

Steven Collins Foster was a song composer, born in 1826. He wrote many of the songs which have now become American classics, songs such as OíSusanna, Camp Town Races, and Way Down Upon The Suwannee River. It seems appropriate that a memorial park dedicated to him would sit on the banks of the Suwannee River. The Steven Foster State Park is located in White Springs, Florida and is only a short drive from either Interstate 75 or Interstate 10. The park is just off of Highway 41. Covering 650 acres, the park is covered in towering pine trees and huge, moss hung oak trees. Much of the park is in natural vegetation. The park is maintained by the Florida Park Service and park rangers are on site to assist with any problems.







After passing through the main gate, which is also the ranger station, you drive down a winding, tree lined road to the museum. The museum is built in the style of an antebellum mansion and contains many of the original pianos played by Steven Foster. There are also eight animated dioramas in the museum which depict scenes from some of Fosterís songs. The museum building is spacious and cool, with Fosterís music playing softly in the background. On display inside the museum are many of Fosterís papers and personal effects. In one display case is the name plate from the World War II Liberty Ship which was named S. S. Steven C. Foster, in honor of the composer.









Facing the museum, across a grassy meadow stands the worlds largest carillon bell tower. The tower was built in 1958 and the array of carillon bells were installed at a cost of $120,000 dollars. There are 97 tubular bells in the array. The largest bell is 12.5 feet long and weighs 426 pounds. The smallest bell is only 3.5 feet long and weighs 69 pounds. The bells are sounded by powerful electric striking devices and can be heard up to five miles away on a quiet day. The bells are sounded automatically on the quarter hour, playing recognizable parts of Steven Fosterís songs. The bell array can also be played manually by a musician who sits at a special control console that looks very similar to a piano keyboard. Also located in the bell tower are more animated dioramas and glass cases with life sized manikins dressed in the fashion which was popular during Steven Fosterís lifetime. Many manuscripts and photos are on display.





North of the bell tower the camping area is located. In a shady setting of large trees the camp sites are laid out with plenty of room for everyone. Picnic tables are scattered throughout the camping area. There are electrical and water hookups for campers. The camping area is beautifully maintained, with paved streets and native plants and trees. A sewage dumping station and trash dumpster is located at the entrance to the camping area. Gathering firewood in the park is forbidden, but firewood can be purchased at the park entrance ranger station. A fish cleaning table is just outside the campground entrance. The campsites are layed out in circular patterns. Some are drive through and others are back in sites. Some of the campsites are on the main road and surrounded by open areas. Other campsites on the back side of the circles are very secluded, surrounded by palmettoes and blue berry bushes.









Also located near the bell tower is the gift shop and crafts complex. The gift shop is built in the style of an old farm house. Inside you can buy souvenirs and local folk crafts such as painted gourds, handmade dulcimers, quilts, and knives. Also available in the gift shop are tapes and Cds of Steven Fosterís music. Locally produced jelly, syrup, and honey line the shelves. In the crafts complex demonstrations in basket weaving, stained glass, quilting, wood carving and many other folk crafts are conducted. Classes are available where visitors can learn these skills for themselves.








Moving on around the park you would come to the banks of the Suwannee River, made famous in one of Steven Fosterís songs. There is a large covered gazebo high up on the banks of the river with wooden board walks leading down to the water. Moss hung oaks, pines, and hickories grow along the banks of the river and huge old cypress trees grow along the water line. The entire park is well equipped with rest rooms and water fountains. Water fountains can be found along many of the nature trails that run throughout the park. On the river there is also a canoe launch ramp, where you can take a leisurely trip down the river if you have a canoe. If you donít have a canoe, rentals are available nearby, in the town of White Springs for long or short trips. Between the river and the bell tower is a large outdoor amphitheater with covered stage where many folk artists and musicians perform on special occasions. The park admission is very reasonable and the facilities are first rate. If you plan a trip through the north, central Florida area, you should plan to spend some time visiting The Steven Foster State Park in White Springs, Florida.








Graywolf / 2004 / Edited by Riki