High Springs, Gateway to Great Florida Rivers and Springs

In 1884 the Savannah, Florida, and Western Railroad extended their tracks from Live Oak, south to Gainesville, passing through the little community of Santaffey (twenty-five miles north of Gainesville). The railroad put up a depot and a post office. Five years later the townspeople changed the name to High Springs­—apparently, at one time there was a spring on top of a hill, in the middle of town. The phosphate boom of the 1890’s increased traffic, and a new rail connecting High Springs with Tampa, opened in 1893. Two dozen trains were passing through each day. In 1896, the Plant System Railroad Line (later merged with the Atlantic Coast Line) built a roundhouse, where railroad cars could be pulled off the tracks. They built a steam engine repair-and-maintenance shop, a boilermaker shop, a carpentry shop, and an ice house for icing down produce in the freight cars. The town’s population swelled to over 3000. High Springs had become a major railroad repair depot.

Today the town of High Springs is a jumping-off point to some of north-central Florida’s most beautiful springs and rivers. The Santa Fe and Ichetucknee Rivers, Poe Springs, Blue Springs, and Ginnie Springs are all close by. O’Lena State Park is just north of town. For canoeists, kayakers, tubers, scuba divers, and cave divers, it’s the ideal bivouac.

Two weeks ago I passed through High Springs and spent a night at the Grady House Bed & Breakfast, a charming, two-story arts-and-crafts bungalow, built in 1917. Their inviting twin-gabled-roof front porch is furnished with wicker chairs and a bench swing. Hidden from the front are the lush and extensive backyard gardens, with winding brick pathways, fountains, a koi pond, and a gazebo—a genuine secret garden.

The main house has five rooms, each named for its color theme: the Yellow Room, the Peach Room, the Green Room (overlooking the gardens), the Navy Room (with a nautical theme and a sitting room with a daybed), and the Red Room (a romantic room decorated with paintings and lithographs of classical nudes). All of the rooms are filled with early 20th century antiques. Some have claw-foot tubs and sitting rooms. The living room and dining room continue the warm early 20th-Century bungalow ambiance. Next door is the 1896 Easterlin House, which they call Skeet’s Cottage, with two large bedrooms and a bath—ideal for a family. It all feels very much like someone’s grandmother’s house (except for the nudes in the Red Room). I stayed in the bright and cheerful Yellow Room. In the morning owner Lucie Regensdorf served us a magnificent breakfast that began with fresh strawberries, blueberries, black berries, and two kinds of coffee cake. I thought that was plenty when she brought out the sausage, egg, and potato strata with smoked bacon and buttermilk biscuits.

Lucie and Paul Regensdorf purchased the Grady House in 2006 from Tony Boothby and Kirk Eppenstein who remodeled the house into a bed & breakfast in 1998. It had previously been a bakery, a boarding house, and an apartment house. Lucie and Paul have maintained the houses and grounds in immaculate condition. It’s their home too, along with their four rescued dalmatians.

Bruce Hunt

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