Blue Springs Recreation Area (Jackson Blue Springs) near Marianna, Florida

A view of Jackson Blue Spring from the air. The beautiful first magnitude spring feeds Merritts Mill Pond.

Jackson Blue Springs is a magnificent first magnitude spring near Marianna, Florida. Famed for its clear, cold water and spectacular underwater caves, it holds a special place in the history of Florida and the South.

The Northwest Florida Water Management District reports that the spring produces an average of 76 million gallons of water a day. With five other smaller springs, it feeds Merritts Mill Pond, a major scenic and recreational resource in Jackson County, Florida.

The head spring is the focal point of a park maintained by the Jackson County Parks & Recycling Department. Archaeological research around Jackson Blue Spring reveals that it was very well known in prehistoric times. Native American hunters frequented the surrounding forests and prairies for centuries before the arrival of early explorers and settlers. An important Indian trail led from the Natural Bridge of the Chipola River at today’s Florida Caverns State Park to the head of the Apalachicola River opposite today’s city of Chattahoochee, Florida.

The first Spanish explorers to enter the area used this trail and it is remembered today as the Old Spanish Trail. A surviving section of the original can be seen on the hilltop overlooking the spring and is marked by an interpretive panel. The first recorded expedition to pass Jackson Blue Spring was led by Fray Alonso del Moral, the Franciscan provincial minister, with three friars, Lt. Andres Peres and three Spanish soldiers. The party was on its way to establish religious centers are missions among the Chacato Indians who lived west of the Chipola.

The entrance to the cave that feeds the head spring opens into a magnificent submerged cavern that reaches for miles. Photo by Alan Cox

One of the religious members of the party, Fray Rodrigo de la Barreda, wrote that the spring was called Calistoble or Calutoble. The word is probably from the Chacato language and its meaning is unknown. He left a remarkable description in his journal:

…The spring is entirely surrounded by woods, with many walnut, evergreen oak, laurel, common oak, sassafras and some pine trees; around it are numerous huge rocks and habitable caves frequented by the Indians on their hunting trips for bear, deer and buffalo, of which there is an abundance.

Barreda’s description of buffalo in Northwest Florida is remarkable. The legendary American Bison once ranged across much of Florida, but dissappeared soon after his account was written. The magnificent animals were

already rare by then but Jackson Blue Spring was one of the places they still congregated for water.

Spanish explorers, missionaries and soldiers visited the spring often and it was mentioned in journals and reports of expeditions that passed in 1674, 1676, 1686 and 1693. When the British gained control of Florida in 1763, one of their earliest reports on road conditions in Northwest Florida mentions that a primary trail from Pensacola to St. Augustine passed by Blue Springs. British soldiers, traders and travelers stopped at the spring for water and rest.

The spring is open for swimming and other outdoor activities each summer.

Spain regained control of Florida in 1783 thanks to the alliance it formed with the fledgling United States during the American Revolution. Travelers undoubtedly continued to stop there but written accounts are scarce.

The head spring was visited in 1818 by a future President of the United States. Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson brought his army of 1,092 men there during the First Seminole War as he marched from the Apalachicola River to Pensacola.

Jackson reached Blue Springs, which his topographer called the “Big Spring,” on the evening of May 10, 1818. The soldiers camped there for the night and Maj. Hugh Young described it as “forty yards in diameter and of a considerable depth with a rock bottom and a clean rapid current.” Many of the soldiers were so impressed by the spring and the land they saw around it that they returned after the war and settled in what became Jackson County, although Florida remained a Spanish colony until 1821.

Another underwater view of the cave that feeds Jackson Blue Spring. Photo by Alan Cox

The first settler to call Blue Springs home was William Pyles. He filed a land claim with a statement that he settled there prior to 1821. He later sold his land to Maj. William Robinson who came from Georgia and eventually built a 3,100 acre cotton plantation around the spring.

Robinson’s home stood on the hill over looking the head spring. An inventive man, he developed a system of buckets and pulleys to bring fresh water up to the house from the spring. Local settlers began calling the landmark “Robinson’s Big Spring,” a name that it kept for a number of years.

John Milton, a lawyer and former militia officer, acquired the Robinson plantation in 1845-1847. Maj. Robinson had died and Milton, a relative by marriage, combined the major’s 3,100 acres into a plantation that eventually included more than 6,000 acres of prime farmland. Before is death in 1865, Milton expanded his holdings to include some 10,000 acres that stretched from Blue Spring all the way east to the Chattahoochee River. He called the tract Sylvania.

Spanish explorers described the caves that surround the spring more than 300 years ago.

John Milton was elected Governor of Florida in 1860 and took office in the fall of the next year. Florida seceded from the Union during these months and Milton found himself at the head of a state that was already engaged in a bitter war. Sylvania became his place of refuge to which he escaped the pressures of Tallahassee.

A permanent Confederate military camp was placed at the spring, which Milton had renamed Blue Springs. The establishment was called Camp Governor Milton and included permanent buildings, a parade ground, hospital and other necessary facilities. Captain Robert Chisolm’s cavalry company of the Alabama State Militia rode from Jackson Blue Spring to take part in the Battle of Marianna on September 27, 1864.

Blue Springs became a popular spot for picnics and old fashioned Baptizings in the years after the war. The cold clear water and beautiful surroundings made it an ideal recreational spot for people of all races.

Jackson Blue Spring feeds Merritts Mill Pond, a beautiful recreational resource near Marianna, Florida.

The spring is now part of Blue Springs Recreational Area. It is open daily during the summer season from Memorial Day through Labor Day for swimming, picnicking and other outdoor fun. The park is also a major destination for scuba divers who come from around the world to explore the magnificent but often dangerous underwater caves.

Please visit Cave Adventurers for more information on diving at Jackson Blue Spring. They hold a year round concession to help divers. Just click www.caveadventurers.com.

The park is at 5461 Blue Springs Road, Marianna, Florida. To reach Jackson Blue Spring from downtown Marianna, follow U.S. 90 East for 1.4 miles and then turn left (North) on State Highway 71. Follow Highway 71 for 1.1 miles and turn right on Blue Springs Road (County Road
164). The entrance to the park will be 3.3 miles ahead on your right.

Other points of interest in the Marianna area include the city’s numerous historic homes, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the scene of the Battle of Marianna, the “haunted” Russ House, which is open to the public, Florida Caverns State Park and the unique little community of Two Egg, Florida.

Jackson County is also home to more than 60 natural springs as well as the beautiful Chipola River, a state paddling trail.

Please click here to learn more about Blue Springs Recreational Area.

Please click here to learn more about Jackson County, Florida.

See more history and scenery in this video from our sister channel TwoEgg.TV: