John and William Bartram
The Bartram party left their campsite on the west shore of Lake George on the morning of January 24, 1766 and continued rowing along the shoreline until they arrived at Salt Springs Run. The authors of Florida History Online site their campsite of January 23 at Lisk Point, at the southern end of Salt Cove, about two and a half miles along the shoreline from the mouth of the run. They proceeded up the run and locating Salt Springs, spent some time examining the spring and the surrounding area. With their survey completed, they returned to their battoe and headed back towards Lake George. After rowing the 5.7 miles from Salt Springs to Rocky Point where the lake empties into the river, they undoubtedly took this west channel of the St. Johns between the west shore of the river and Drayton Island which afforded the most direct route north. They continued rowing north and crossed the river to the island where they found some “rocky rising ground” along the bank and stopped to camp (Figure 2).
The Bartrams identified present-day Salt Run as Johnson’s Spring. It is apparent from the Journal entry that they had previous knowledge of the spring and its run since the estimate of the length of the run (seven miles) is presented as hearsay rather than an observation. The length of the run, from the spring head to Lake George is only 4.3 miles; considerably shorter than the seven mile estimate John was provided (Figure 3.).
The Bartrams spent some time examining the spring, standing on its north bank and probing its depths with a long pole, walking around the west side of the boil to the south bank and examining the soil and rocks and tasting the brackish water. Though John found the taste to be sour he determined that it was far more palatable than the sulfurous taste and smell of some of the other springs they had discovered during their journey (Satsuma and Nashua springs). They observed a number of different species of fish inhabiting the spring, some of them familiar and others not.
The spring today appears very different from its configuration at the time of the Bartram’s visit. Surrounded on three sides by a concrete wall, the area surrounding the spring boil has been developed for recreation and intensive use by the public. The spring boil is not nearly as impressive today. The spring and its aquatic grasses that were so plentiful in Bartram’s time have been severely impacted by human activity. Patches of the bottom have been completely denuded and the once lush grass beds have been replaced by bare sand as a result of shading by filamentous algae and physical disturbance. Nutrient levels in the discharged water have increased considerably as Florida has become more populated and more of the landscape has been cleared for agricultural uses. The consequence of this increase in nutrients is the explosive growth of filamentous algae within the spring and spring run. These algae attach to any available substrate, including the blades of native aquatic grasses. Deprived of light, the rooted plants are unable to survive and are replaced by the huge clumps and mats of drab green algal growth. This bloom of algae may be persistent or seasonal depending on weather conditions so the appearance and condition of the Spring and its Run is variable.
Of all of the Bartram sites, none presents such a stark contrast between the natural beauty of Florida observed by the Bartrams and its present state and so vividly demonstrates the consequences of poor stewardship.
As previously mentioned, various records indicate that William made two trips up river from Spalding’s Lower Store in 1774 however, in Travels the two experiences are combined and described as a single trip. In this account of his journey, he describes leaving his campsite on the west shore of Lake George about two miles south of Silver Glen Springs and soon, finding the lake’s dark waters suddenly clear, discovers and proceeds up the source of the clear water: Six Mile Springs Run – today’s Salt Springs Run.
In this account, he established his camp near the springs and spent some time exploring the surrounding lands, collecting plants recording observations. The following morning, he broke camp and proceeded down the run back to Lake George. He described crossing Salt Cove at the northwest corner of Lake George and making landfall at Rocky Point at the northwest entrance of the St. Johns River. After conducting a brief exploration of the area around the point, his route continued up the west channel of the St. Johns towards Mount Royal but stopped on Drayton Island where he established his camp and spent the night (Figure 4).
The account of his visit to Salt Springs recorded in his Report varies considerably from that provided in his Travels. In this account, it was during this second upstream (southbound) trip that he describes proceeding up Salt Springs Run to the spring (p. 161). In this account he passed by Drayton Island without stopping as he headed south onto Lake George and was promptly forced into Salt Springs run due to “wind rising very fresh.” There being very little probability of his crossing the lake, he (and his companions) continued up the run to the Springs. Here he spent most of the remaining day observing the flora and fauna in the spring and exploring the surrounding area. That evening he returned to the mouth of the run where he established his camp for the night. The following day proceeded south and by nightfall arrived at Spalding’s Upper Store. During his return from this second trip up the St. Johns, he describes visiting today’s Silver Glen Springs (which he calls Johnsons Spring) and from there sailing past Salt Springs Run directly to Drayton Island where he collected plants and seeds, but left the island before nightfall and established a camp at Rocky Point rather than on Drayton Island.
Chapter VIII of Travels also contains a description of a second brief visit to “the Great Springs” late in the autumn of 1774 just prior to his departing Florida for the final time. He describes a six-day jaunt, one last fling, up the River from Spalding’s Lower Store to as far south as the SE shore of Lake George and back with overnight stops at Mount Royal, a sandy beach on the west shore of Lake George, an unnamed spring, the east shore of Lake George near Dr. Stork’s abandoned (failed) plantation, and finally, Drayton Island before returning to the Store. While Harper contends that the spring visited during this trip was today’s Salt Springs, the description of the visit is limited to a portion of a single sentence: “next day visited the Great Springs, where I remained until the succeeding day, encreasing my collections of specimens, seeds and roots, and then recrossed the lake to the Eastern coast.” Based on his itinerary, failure to specifically name the spring, and descriptions of his previous visits to both springs, it is more likely, that the Great Springs were in fact, today’s Silver Glen Springs. .
Salt Springs and its run are important Bartram sites. Regardless of the account one prefers (Travels vs. the Report) it is apparent that Salt Springs had made quite an impression on young William during his first visit to Florida in 1765 as he made it a point to return to the spring during his return visit. He collected a number of plant specimens at this site which he sent back to the Lower Store for shipment to his benefactor in London.
Salt Springs can be accessed both by water and by road. The Spring is located within the Ocala National Forest and is presently a designated Recreation Area. There are facilities at the Spring including a campsite and boat launch. (See website link below) There is an entrance fee to visit the Recreation Area and the spring by road, however both may be accessed by water free of charge.
Salt Springs Run Marina and Landing, located in the Ocala National Forest at the head of Salt Springs Run has a boat ramp and canoe/kayak launch available to the public but charges a nominal parking fee for those using the facilities. They also have a variety of boat rentals available to the public. (See website link below)
Links and References
Bartram, William. Travels Through North & South Carolina, Georgia, East & West Florida, the Cherokee Country, the Extensive Territories of the Muscogulges, or Creek Confederacy, and the Country of the Chactaws; Containing An Account of the Soil and Natural Productions of Those Regions, Together with Observations on the Manners of the Indians. Embellished with Copper-Plates. James and Johnson Publishers. 1791. Electronic Edition.
Harper, Francis, ed. The Travels of William Bartram, Naturalist’s Edition. Yale University Press. New Haven. 1958.
Bartram, William. Annotated by Francis Harper. Travels in Georgia and Florida, 1773-74; a report to Dr. John Fothergill. Annotated by Francis Harper. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, n.s., Vol. XXXIII, Pt. II. Philadelphia, PA, 1943.
Florida History Online “John Bartram’s Travels on the St. Johns River, 1765-1766.” May 2013.
Bartram, John. Diary of a Journey through the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida, from July 1, 1765, to April 10, 1766, annotated by Francis Harper. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, n.s., Vol. XXXIII, Pt. I. Philadelphia, PA, 1942.
Florida History Online. New World in a State of Nature; British Plantations and Farms on the St. Johns River, East Florida 1763-1784. May 2013
Bruce, F.W. Assistant Engineer, US Army Corps of Engineers. St. Johns River to Lake Harney, Florida. 1908. The Portal to Texas History. University of North Texas. Nautical Chart of the St. Johns River.
Florida Museum of Natural History. Florida Naturalists. William Bartram. Book of Travels. May 2013
Salt Springs Recreation Area website:
Salt Springs Run Marina and Landing website:
Coordinates A: 29° 21.026’N 81° 43.955’W
The coordinates given for this site are at the Salt Springs boil within the Salt Springs Recreation Area (Figure 1).