Monday, May 8, 2017

Spirit of the Spring: How a ghost stopped Blue Springs from flowing

The watery domain of the Spirit of the Spring,
glorious in its "beauty and wild freedom."
Photo by Alan Cox
This is the conclusion to The Spirit of Blue Springs: A Jackson County Ghost Story

Blue Springs continued to flow through times of war and peace for hundreds of years after Calistoble and her lover disappeared into its depths.

The Spanish never settled at the spring but preserved it as a stopping place on their journeys into the Florida Panhandle. They continued to call it Calistoble and marveled at both the crystal clear waters and the surrounding hills on which grew wild grapes in profusion. Bison (buffalo) roamed the slopes and drank from the spring.

The British and Americans that followed changed the name to Big Spring and then Blue Springs. The ancient Chacato chief's warning against damaging the spring was forgotten as early entrepreneurs arrived on the scene. 
Filming from the diving board at Blue Springs with crystal
clear water rising from the cave below.

One such developer viewed the rapid current with awe and speculated as to the profits that he could make if the spring was dammed to power grist, saw and cotton mills. Plans were prepared and a date set for the beginning of construction.

The Spirit of the Spring watched from within her watery domain:

   It is not known until this day how the spring became aware of the business man’s purpose. It is thought that the wind whispered the secret to her while on a moonlight visit. She, who from Creation’s dawn had remained unmolested, now conceived the idea that her privilege – the privilege of being beautiful – was about to be invaded, and that she would be forced to do menial service, which would not only mar her beauty, but degrade her to the level of an ordinary water course. She could not endure the thought of adding an artificial growth, and sitting by the side of a great wheel, turning it all the day long and far into the night. She rebelled at the thought of such desecration and resolutely determined not to submit. The sordid hand of commerce might mar, but it should not forever destroy the beauty and wild freedom of this romantic spring.
Hon. Francis B. Carter
Associate Justice, Supreme Court of Florida
and writer of 1907 account of the Spirit.
State Archives of Florida

The above passage was written by Judge Francis B. Carter of Marianna. He owned the beautiful old Ely-Criglar Mansion from 1889-1900 and was an associate justice of the Supreme Court of Florida in 1897-1905.

He wrote the story of the Spirit of the Spring in 1907:

...At great expense a building was erected for the mill; the miller’s house arose among the oaks, a dam was constructed a few yards below and the Spirit of Commerce gloated over the prospect of its almost brutal conquest of the fairest and loveliest spring in all of Florida. An immense undershot wheel was put in position, the breach in the dam was closed and the Spirit of Commerce took his stand by the side of the waters, awaiting the moment when the clear and limpid element should rise to a sufficient height to do the menial service of turning the great wheel.

The dam discussed in this story was not the one associated with Merritt's Mill where U.S. Highway 90 crosses the foot of the mill pond, nor was it the one at the midpoint of the pond that provided power for Coker's Mill. The first dam was at the spring itself. Heavy wooden beams from the mill can still be seen on the bottom of the swimming area, especially during occasional draw downs for control of aquatic growth.

Merritt's Mill Pond is a stunning Marianna landmark that
is a favorite place for outdoor fun including swimming,
paddling, fishing, diving, birding, boating and more.
...The energetic and farsighted business man whose brain conceived the plan took his place near the mill, and awaited the event which, though it destroyed the romance surrounding the spring, would add to his commercial enterprises another great source of income. The breach was closed, the waters poured forth with their accustomed vigor for a few hours, and then the flow began to decline. The waters which before, from time immemorial, had been free, which in their wild freedom had danced and sparkled in the sunshine, humming low melodies, clear as crystal, cold as an Arctic river, now refused to the work appointed by the Spirit of Commerce.

The sudden halt in the flow of water from the spring stunned those who waited to see the undershot wheel of the new mill begin to turn. A few older members of the community, however, remembered the ancient legend of Calistoble and her lover. They knew the answer to the mystery that puzzled those who had gathered to see the mill begin its operation:
"The Spirit of the Spring laid her hand upon the opening" to
stop the water that flowed from the magnificent cave at
Blue Springs (Jackson Blue Spring).
Photo by Alan Cox

...The Spirit of the Spring laid her hand upon the opening and said to the waters: “Come not forth,” and they obeyed gladly. She furnished other outlets for some, drove others back into the bowels of the earth, filling surface wells on neighboring plantations, supplying waters for new springs and lakes never before heard of, but refusing absolutely to supply the power requisite for the great wheel. The waters of the spring ceased to flow, they assumed a lifeless appearance, the long green moss settled upon the bottom gasping for breath, a dark green substance rose to the surface and like a thick veil hid the waters from view.

Judge Carter, a boy at the time, was among those who witnessed the stopping of the spring. He knew that the Spirit of the Spring was responsible:

...She mourned and would not be comforted, but she consistently refused to do the work assigned. The great wheel and the mill house which marred the beauty of the spring and had brought about all the trouble, remained idle and vacant, and the Spirit of Commerce, try though he did, could neither coax nor drive.
Blue Springs (Jackson Blue Spring) is
the only first magnitude spring in the
Apalachicola/Chattahoochee/Flint/Chipola
River Basin.

The mill was a failure. The beautiful Blue Springs, just as the Chacato chief had warned centuries before, turned into a stagnant pool. It remained so until the businessman responsible for damming it gave up his project and began to dismantle his mill and dam.

What remained of it finally rotted and broke to pieces:

...The Spirit of the Spring came forth and removed the dark veil that so long had covered the face of the waters, the water began to dance and sparkle and sing as of yore, the long moss, now a dull lead color and lifeless, rose from the bottom, assumed its accustomed hue, waving its long arms in gladness and joy, now rising to the surface to be kissed by the sunbeams and caressed by the breezes, now falling to the bottom, forming momentary hiding places for the fishes and the turtles.

The story, however, did not end there. The Spirit was so angered by the effort to commercialize the spring that she turned harsh and vengeful. The rushing water that now poured from the cave dug deep holes in the lime rock bottom of the creek that flowed from the spring. 

These holes and caves have claimed many lives through the years:

The Spirit of the Spring, according to legend, stands ready to
stop the flow of Blue Springs forever should humans again
attempt to destroy its natural beauty.
...Woe to the heedless one who, tempted by appearances, enters one of these seductive places for a bath. Better heed the warnings which the angry waters – angry because obstructed by the remains of the dam – continually thunder forth to the unwary, for the icy coldness of these beautiful waters will chill the blood, and the Spectre of Death will rise from the spring as it has risen, since the Spirit of Commerce hardened the heart of the Spirit of the Spring.

Future efforts to dam Spring Creek were more successful with the resulting mill pond being among the clearest and most beautiful lakes in the world. Those dams were placed far downstream, however, in order to preserve the natural beauty of the spring.

The Spirit of the Spring still resides in its depths with her beloved. They can be seen there, standing in the shadows, when the light of the full moon strikes the water just right. 

Her heart is still hardened and she stands ready to stop the flow of Blue Springs forever at the first sign of damage by human beings.

Blue Springs Recreational Area will open for the summer on May 29th. To learn more about the history of the spring, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/jacksonbluespring and watch the video below.

Dale Cox
May 8, 2017

Judge Francis B. Carter
August 11, 1907





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