History and Culture
In 1931 Josiah K. Lilly, the son of Indiana pharmaceutical manufacturer Eli K. Lilly, suggested a memorial to composer Stephen Foster, whose song ‘Old Folks at Home’ made the Suwannee River known all over the world. The Florida Federation of Music Clubs adopted his idea and obtained contributions of land in White Springs, Florida. The Stephen Foster Memorial Commission administered the development of the park, which opened in 1950. In 1935, ‘Old Folks at Home’ was designated Florida’s official state song. Stephen Collins Foster, born in 1826, composed more than 200 songs during his lifetime.
In the early days of Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center, visitors rode on replica paddle steamers up and down the Suwannee River. The boats were named the Belle of the Suwannee and the Glendy Burke.
Other influential people include Lillian Saunders, she worked hard to help acquire the first 100 acres of land for the Stephen Foster Memorial. As well as ‘Cousin’ Thelma Boltin who was considered the first lady of the Florida Folk Festival, directing the annual celebration for more than 20 years. The first Florida Folk Festival was held in 1953. The Florida Folk Festival has become the longest running state folk festival in the United States, taking place each year during Memorial Day weekend. Many well-known musicians have performed here, including Floridians Gamble Rogers and Will McLean, artisans, musicians and storytellers share their crafts with festival goers each May. Learn more about the Florida Folk Festival.
In the 1700s, White Sulphur Spring, a second magnitude spring located within the park, was regarded as sacred ground for American Indians because the water was believed to hold curative powers. Located on the banks of the Suwannee River, the spring was promoted as a health resort from the mid-1800s through the 1950s. Shops, dressing rooms and clinical examination rooms were built as part of a bath or springhouse beside the spring, which was enclosed by a concrete wall. Some of the spring’s famous visitors included Teddy Roosevelt and Henry Ford. Today, the original concrete wall and gate, located near the park entrance are all that remain of this once popular resort.