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Last week we had family in town. My husband’s Aunt and Uncle from Tennessee
were here for a few days. We decided to cool off at Alexander Springs. We were going to meet them at spring, which is located in the Ocala National Forest. The Forest was established in 1908 as the FIRST national forest east of the Mississippi.
My father, his brothers, and my grandparents spent many summers there cooling off at Alexander Springs, escaping the Florida heat during the days before air conditioning. However, this was my first visit!
Grayson, Grant, and I loaded up the snorkeling gear, packed a lunch, and were on our way. After about an hour, I realized we might need a little assistance. Much of the Ocala National Forest, is well, forest, and tiny towns that are gone when you blink. I knew I was not far but was sure there was a road I was missing somewhere. I caught sight of a sign for a visitor’s center. I couldn’t picture a big visitor center out in the middle of nowhere.
At the 1/4 mile marker, I started looking and only saw a run-down campground. I turned around and we all started looking real hard on both sides of the road. Sure enough, back off the road in a clump of trees was a little wooden cabin. I only saw it for the blue neon open sign in the window.
I was VERY happy to pull up outside because we were at the 2-hour mark and I knew
our family was wondering where we were. Cell service is sketchy in the woods.
We opening the creaking old screen door into the cutest old cabin. Inside was Mrs. Lee,
she greeted us with a smile and a welcome! I told her where I needed to go, and she took
me over to a wall map. She told the boys to go off into the other rooms to see
what they could find. I thought there couldn’t be ANYTHING
in here interesting to see. It was just an old place they used for lost people!
After she gave me a map and assured me I was just a few minutes away from the springs, I went into the other room to collect the boys. I was totally surprised by all the Indian artifacts, taxidermy animals, historical photographs, clothing and tree dissections and things I had not seen. This place was a fantastic history lesson (I love history).
We needed to get going, so we said goodbye to Mrs. Lee and signed the guestbook. She said we had been the only visitors so far that day. I enjoyed it so much, I was kinda glad we got lost!
Finally, we caught up with our family and found another fantastic gem! Alexander Springs is spectacular with the blue water bubbling up over the spring. The swimming area was large and much of it was not over our heads, except further out over the spring. The picnic area was green grass with lots of picnic tables. Surrounding the area is old oaks and tall, skinny palm trees. It was picturesque of old Florida, and the photo slides I have seen at my grandparents. I think it is awesome to share places with my kids that generations of our family have shared too.
We had lots of fun hanging out in the cool water.
If you are within driving distance of the Ocala National Forest. There is so much to
see and do for outdoor enthusiasts. Plan a trip and discover Alexander springs at its best!
I later learned that the visitor center was called the Pitman House. It was built by the CCC in 1938. The historic Civilian Conservation Corps was a critical part of America’s launch into conserving our natural resources and parks across America. This particular home was built for the state game officer. You may have visited a historic site that was built by the CCC. This could really be a great unit study on the hard work of thousands of young men deep in the heart of the depression era of our country. What they were able to accomplish is still being treasured today by all of us. I found a few sites that may interest you in finding out more.
If you take a dive into the history of the CCC, I would love to hear about it. Please share with us the places you have visited that were, in part, built by the CCC. It is an interesting part our of American Heritage that many people don’t know about!
As an interesting side note: In researching my information on the Ocala Forest Website, it says that the Pitman House Visitors Center is closed, and has been for a while. Hmm, maybe Mrs. Lee felt impressed that day to open it up for a bit. Little did she know what an impression it would make on a weary, lost mom.
Do you enjoy visiting the parks? Your family might enjoy our unit on Parks and history.
Holly Giles is a wife, mother, and storyteller. As an author and Florida Master Naturalist, she writes about heritage homemaking skills, motherhood, and why Florida offers the best hidden natural gems to explore as a family.