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The derelict bathing pools of Hampton Springs, Florida

Bojan Ivanov

Hampton Springs is situated near the town of Perry in Taylor County, Florida. At this place was located the famed Hampton Springs Hotel — famous worldwide as a health spa center because of its sulfur springs and baths, which were believed to have health-giving powers.

The secret to the longevity of this particular tourist resort was a willingness to change with the times. As mineral-spring-bathing fell out of fashion around the end of the 1920s, Hampton Springs Hotel was remodeled as a golf resort, hunting and fishing lodge, and a wilderness retreat.

Guests still continued to enjoy taking the waters of the spring and indoor pool. The hotel also sold bottles of it’s sulfurous water by mail order.

The hotel was opened in 1908 and remained a popular destination until it was destroyed by fire in 1954. Today only remnants of the foundations and the empty, decaying pools remain of this exclusive spa resort.

Historical marker at site of the old Hampton Springs Hotel. Author: Ebyabe CC BY-SA 3.0

Historical marker at site of the old Hampton Springs Hotel. Author: Ebyabe CC BY-SA 3.0

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, the warm climate of the Sunshine State was favored by northerners as a place to recuperate from all manner of health complaints. An early tourist industry began to grow up around some of the more prominent, mineral rich natural springs.

The first of Florida’s mineral spas was established at Magnolia Springs in 1853 by Dr. Nathan Benedict, a New York psychiatrist.

The remains of an ornamental pond, with one of the spa pools visible in the background on the right, and the bridge over Spring Creek to the left. Author: Ebyabe CC BY-SA 3.0

The remains of an ornamental pond, with one of the spa pools visible in the background on the right, and the bridge over Spring Creek to the left. Author: Ebyabe CC BY-SA 3.0

Balneology, or the practice of treating and preventing disease through the use of natural mineral hot springs water, has been used by many different civilizations right back to the Bronze Age.

Even today, many people swear by the healing powers of these waters. The majority of the springs in the state of Florida, however, are icy cold in comparison. But they are no less laden with minerals — perhaps the refreshingly cold temperature only added to the charm for thousands of visitors to Hampton Springs.

And the potent rotten-eggs smell of sulfur was a great selling point for its owners, the Hampton family.

White sulfur residue can be seen in this old spring fed pool. Author: Ebyabe CC BY-SA 3.0

White sulfur residue can be seen in this old spring fed pool. Author: Ebyabe CC BY-SA 3.0

Many sources tell the story that the Hampton’s bought a government grant to what was then Rocky Creek Mineral Springs in 1857, soon after they arrived to settle in Taylor County. Apparently the wife of Joe Hampton, who suffered badly with rheumatism, found her pain was eased by the “miraculous” waters that they had been shown by a local Native American. It is also possible that they purchased the plot from John and Ana Carlton in 1879.

From beneath the grate in this picture the spring still bubbles up to fill the pool. The channel behind it (between the exposed brickwork) fills the second pool, and the overflow was directed into a nearby creek. Author: Ebyabe CC BY-SA 3.0

From beneath the grate in this picture the spring still bubbles up to fill the pool. The channel behind it (between the exposed brickwork) fills the second pool, and the overflow was directed into a nearby creek. Author: Ebyabe CC BY-SA 3.0

Regardless, the Hamptons founded the Hampton Springs and Mineral Company around 1900 and began advertising their healing powers of their spring. Obtaining funding from local shareholders, the company built a two-story 70-room hotel to house the increasing numbers of tourists. It was finished in 1908 and extended in 1915.

Over the next five years Hampton Springs Hotel was developed into a luxury resort.

The once-bustling spa pools are now derelict and decaying. Author: Ebyabe CC BY-SA 3.0

The once-bustling spa pools are now derelict and decaying. Author: Ebyabe CC BY-SA 3.0

It boasted an indoor swimming pool, beautifully landscaped gardens with manicured lawns and fountains, a luxury golf course, and of course the elaborate series of spring-fed pools. Guests could make use of the casino, tennis courts, a ballroom, stables, an outdoor dance pavilion, and railroad depot. There was also a private hunting and fishing lodge.

With a reputation as the finest hotel in the area, Hampton Springs has some impressive names on its visitors log, including Theodore Roosevelt and members of royal families from the far east.

The water flows out of the pools into Spring Creek. Author: Ebyabe CC BY-SA 3.0

The water flows out of the pools into Spring Creek. Author: Ebyabe CC BY-SA 3.0

During the late 1930s and 1940s, part of the hotel complex was used as a barracks for military personnel who were testing aircraft at a nearby airport. In 1954, a fire engulfed the building and the whole complex was abandoned.

Concrete walkway through the landscaped grounds. Author: Ebyabe CC BY-SA 3.0

Concrete walkway through the landscaped grounds. Author: Ebyabe CC BY-SA 3.0

The former hotel site is now managed as a public park by the Florida Bureau of Historic Preservation. The old walkways and remnants of the resort have been left in situ for visitors to explore a frozen-in-time piece of history. It’s also a great place to picnic and enjoy the nature trails.