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Panacea is an historic fishing and tourist waterfront village located along Dickerson Bay in Wakulla County between the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and Apalachicola National Forest southwest of the state capital of Tallahassee. The establishment of Panacea began with the Panacea Mineral Springs, a concentration of small sulphurous springs known for their ‘healing attributes’. There were hotels, restaurants, health spas, baths, bottled water for drinking, boardwalks, piers and pavilions over the bay, all oriented around the healing power of the springs and bringing prosperity until the Depression. Most of the development was destroyed by a hurricane in 1928, and the springs property soon fell into neglect.
For generations commercial fishermen have landed their catches at Rock Landing. The commercial fishing culture has been devastated by the net ban legislation, and the two hundred odd boats that once landed there have been reduced to a mere twenty. The remaining fishermen still land their catches of blue crab, oysters, pink and white shrimp, mullet, trout, and grouper at the county’s Rock Landing dock.
Panacea Mineral Springs
There are at least seven small springs on the site, in a marshy area near Dickerson Bay. Some appear as potholes; at least three have a clear flow into a nearby creek that flows under U.S. 98 into Dickerson Bay. Six of the springs have the remnants of concrete structures around them, vestiges of their use in the early 1900s as a spa to which people traveled to seek cure in the mineral waters. One spring, encircled by brick, has the remnants of a stump in it. The stump had been hollowed, and pressure forced water through the stump in a small fountain. The banks of the creek have at least twenty small- to-middling seeps that are visible at low tide—see rough drawing below for locations of the springs. The largest of the seeps is near U.S. 98 on the north bank and has a volume of perhaps one gallon per second.
As noted above, the site had a hotel in the early part of the century, as well as baths, trails, and supposedly as many as 20 springs that discharged a "large" quantity of water. According to an article in the Tallahassee Democrat in 2004, "In the 19th century, Wakulla boosters were determined to transform the county's natural mineral springs into a tourist attraction. That's how 'Smith Springs' became 'Panacea'—Greek for 'healing all'—in 1889. Advertisements boasted that each of the town's 13 bubbling ponds cured a different ailment. Tourists flocked to Panacea to bask in the restorative springs. Later as South Florida began to hog the tourist trade, Panacea's mineral springs became a thing of the past, a mysterious artifact of a forgotten time."