Silver Springs (attraction)
|Date opened||1878 (When the glass-bottom boat was created)|
|Date closed||September 15, 2013 (as an attraction)|
|Location||Silver Springs, Florida, United States of America|
|Major exhibits||Glass-bottom boat rides|
|Owner||State of Florida|
Silver Springs is a group of artesian springs that feed into the Silver River in Marion County, Florida. It is Florida's oldest tourist attraction, featuring glass-bottom boat tours and an amusement park. Long a privately-operated attraction, it has been part of Silver Springs State Park since October 2013.
On January 23, 2013 the Florida Cabinet announced that the park operators would relinquish control of the facility at the end of the 2013 summer tourist season after paying a $4 million buyout. Steady declines in ticket sales and increasing nitrate pollution have made the attraction unprofitable, but the company was committed to a lease until 2029. The state plans to clean up the area and make it accessible as part of the adjacent Silver River State Park.
- 1 History
- 2 Areas
- 3 Rides and Activities
- 4 Animal Exhibits
- 5 Rides, Exhibits and Activities
- 6 References
- 7 External links
The springs were the first tourist attraction in Florida. In the 1860s, Samuel O. Howse bought the 242 acres surrounding the headwaters of the Silver River, however it wasn't until several years after the American Civil War that it became a well-known tourist destination. In the late 1870s, Hullam Jones and Phillip Morell's inventions of the general Glass-bottom boat and the glass bottom rowboat, respectively, gave visitors a spectacular and unique view of the springs. Silver Springs gained national attention through journals and guidebooks, and became a mandatory stop on the "grand tour" of Florida. Former President Ulysses S. Grant visited the area in 1880. In the 1890s commercial glass-bottom boats were developed. H.L. Anderson purchased Silver Springs and the surrounding area from Howse in 1898.
C. Carmichael bought 80 acres of land from Anderson in 1909 for less than $3,000. Soon after he made the boats more comfortable by installing cushioned seats and canopies. The Seven Swans was filmed on location at Silver Springs in 1916, and is the first known use of the Springs for cinematography. President Calvin Coolidge visited the Springs in the 1920s.
Ocalans W. Carl Ray and W. M. "Shorty" Davidson became partners and bought the land around the Springs in 1924, and like the previous owner, improved the boats shortly afterwords in 1925 by adding gasoline engines. In 1929, the famous herpetologist Ross Allen opened the "Ross Allen Reptile Institute" on the some of the land near the head of the Springs. It had a large influence on Silver Springs and attracted thousands of tourists for many decades after it was opened. Colonel Tooey, a concessionaire who operated the "Jungle Cruise" boat ride, established the first troop of wild rhesus monkeys in the 1930s on an island in the Silver River. He established the colony to attract visitors to his ride, except he did not realize the rhesus monkeys were excellent swimmers. They quickly escaped and formed feral troops along the river, some of which can still be seen. In 1932 the glass-bottom boats were equipped with electric motors.
Even though "The Seven Swans" was filmed at Silver Springs in 1916, it wasn't until 1932 that the location become known as a filming hot-spot. The movie that introduced this "trend" of filming movies at the Springs was Tarzan the Ape Man, featuring Johnny Weissmuller. In the rest of the 1930s and the early 1940s, 5 more of the original Tarzan movies were filmed at Silver Springs, and in 1945 Creature from the Black Lagoon was filmed there. By 1950 the number of guests at Silver Springs was over 800,000 people per year. On June 17, 1955, a fire destroyed many buildings by the entrance of Silver Springs, including ticket offices, the gift shop, the cafe, and a storage building. The buildings were rebuilt later, including a new building across from the glass-bottom boat dock with many rooms for stores and restaurants, which is still there today. Years later in 1958, episodes of the television series Sea Hunt started to be filmed at Silver Springs. This continued until the series was stopped in 1961.
On May 1, 1962, rumors arose in the local newspaper about Ray and Davidson talking to the American Broadcasting Company about selling Silver Springs for $7.5 Million, but Ray's son W. C. (Buck) Ray Jr. (who was general manager at the park) denied those rumors. However, on May 29, it was officially announced that the sale of Silver Springs to ABC-Paramount was taking place. The final papers were signed on October 31, 1962, making ABC-Paramount the new owners of Silver Springs. The sale included the "lease of the Springs, all of the buildings and about 3,900 acres of land from the head of the Springs to the Ocklawaha River". Although, it did not include the private businesses in the park such as the "Ross Allen Reptile Institute" or "Tommy Bartlett's Deer Ranch".
ABC wanted to own all attractions in the area as part of the park, so they planned on buying major attractions including the "Ross Allen Reptile Institute", "Tommy Bartlett's Deer Ranch" and the "Prince of Peace Memorial". On June 29, 1963 the company gave Bartlett a 30 day notice to move his business or sell it to them. Media attention soon arose on the issue, because Bartlett stated that Ray and Davidson had extended his lease to January 29, 1967 before they sold Silver Springs to ABC. The parties had a pre-trial conference planned for April 15, 1965, but it wasn't needed as Bartlett and "Silver Springs Inc." (Owned by ABC) came to an agreement and had papers signed on April 9, 1965 that made the Deer Ranch and all of its contents official ABC property. Allen eventually made a deal with Silver Springs Inc. and sold the Institute. The deal was that he could stay as the director of the Institute, which he did for years until his retirement. In October 1971, the natural Silver Springs were declared a National Natural Landmark. In 1973 Silver Springs started a wildlife rehabilitation program.
From 1974-1978 ABC expanded Silver Springs and the surrounding area tremendously. In 1974 they started to renovate a 5-acre island. "Cypress Island" opened in November 1974, and had a formal opening ceremony in March 1975. Non-activities included a the "Cypress Gift Shop" and an open-air beer pavilion. Activities and exhibits on the island included a new facility for the "Ross Allen Reptile Institute" which now had three large wooden amphitheaters for reptile shows, and some animal exhibits. The "Jungle Cruise" loading dock was also moved to the island. On April 28, 1978, 450 press representatives took a grand tour of Silver Springs' sister water park, Wild Waters, before it opened to the public on the 29th.
In 1984, ABC sold the land Silver Springs and Wild Waters occupied to Florida Leisure Attractions, and in 1989 Florida Leisure Acquisition Corporation bought the land from Florida Leisure Attractions. A 35-acre Jeep Safari opened in 1990. It takes people into the forest where they can see wild animals such as the rhesus monkeys, or artifacts such as the original tree house used by Tarzan in the 1930s Tarzan movies. In 1991 "Lost River Voyage" opened to the public. The boat dock was located where the show "Sea Hunt" was filmed, and took guests 1 mile down the Silver River to a small island where zookeepers showcased native animals, after which time the boat returned to the dock with its passengers. In 1993 the first comprehensive study of Silver Springs' main spring took place, and consisted of geological, paleontological and biological studies of the spring, which is the largest artisan spring in the world. Later in 1993, Florida Leisure Acquisition Corporation sold the land that Silver Springs and Wild Waters resided on to the State of Florida, but continued to manage the parks under a long-term lease.
In 1994, "A Touch of Garlits" museum of antique cars and race cars opened. The White Alligator exhibit opened a year later in 1995. In 1996, Ogden Entertainment of Florida, Inc. acquired the lease for Silver Springs and Wild Waters. A multi-million dollar expansion project went underway in 1997, and finished in early 1999. It is the largest expansion in Silver Springs history, and it introduced "World of Bears", "Big Gator Lagoon", "Panther Prowl", "Kids Ahoy!" the Twin Oaks Mansion, and other things into the park. It also moved the Giraffe exhibit. In 1999, the famous "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin visited the park, and most of the staff members that were there in 1999 say that they truly enjoyed his visit.
On January 14, 2000, Cypress Island was renamed Ross Allen Island in honor of the late herpetologist's involvement in the park from the 1930s until the 1970s. Also on January 14, the "Florida Natives" exhibit was opened to the public. Later in 2000, SmartParks, Inc. acquired the lease to Silver Springs and Wild Waters. In 2002, SmartParks failed to pay the $1.2 million annual lease payment to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in March, and sold Silver Springs/Wild Waters to Palace Entertainment in July. Palace signed a 20-year management agreement with the state. On March 8, 2004 the famed "Jungle Cruise" was closed and all of the animals in it were sold to the Micanopy Zoological Preserve. It was later changed into an attraction that showed guests about Florida history, known as the Fort King River Cruise (which opened in the summer of 2004). Also in 2004, "The Lighthouse" ride and the Fantastic Fountains water show were built. All three new attractions were opened on July 8, 2004.
The springs themselves began to exhibit the problems that have affected many springs in Florida. Fertilizer runoff and septic outflow contain nitrates, which spawned brown algae. Alligators now climb on top of the thick algae mats to sun. Increased development in the surrounding area requires more water from the aquifer, causing a dramatic decrease in the volume of water from the springs. Flow has dropped from 510 million gallons per day (before 2000) to 346.
Another study showed a decrease of 90% in the fish population, compared to levels in the 1950s. To prevent storm runoff from carrying pollution into the springhead, the parking lot will be moved from the area along the waterway.
The last two giraffes at Silver Springs, Kimba and Khama, died on November 7, 2011 and December 19, 2012. They were mates, and were both born at Silver Springs (in 1982 and 1987, respectively). "Frank the Tank", an Aldabra tortoise who had lived in the park for nearly 40 years died on April 19, 2012. He was the oldest animal in the park, being approximately over 100 years old.
The Tampa Bay Times reported that the park's profit margin over ten years had fallen from a healthy 23.5% to a meager 5.3%, and Palace wanted out of their lease before they began losing money. In January 2013, it was announced that the State of Florida would begin managing the park on October 1. Palace Entertainment agreed to spend $4 million to fulfill their remaining obligations. As of 09/21/2013 and according to the website the park is now closed and will be part of the parks system effective 10/01/2013
Although Silver Springs does not have official "areas", these are the basic areas in the park where the attractions and animal exhibits are located.
After you enter the park, you will be able to see the main gift shop. You will also see three flagpoles in the center of a fork in the path, and the head of Silver Springs. The plaque from the United States Department of the Interior and the National Park Service declaring Silver Springs as a national natural landmark is located at the base of the flagpoles (It was put there in 1972). When you go to the left on the fork in the path, you will be able to access shops and restaurants in a building built in the park in 1955 after a fire. Across from that is the glass bottom boat waiting area and loading dock (along with the boats themselves).
Ross Allen Island
Ross Allen Island, formerly known as Cypress Point Island, Cypress Point and Cypress Island at various times, is a man-made boardwalk area on a 5 1/2 acre island. It opened in November 1974, and formally opened on March 19, 1975. In 1975 it mainly contained the re-vamped Ross Allen Reptile Institute, which included three wooden amphitheaters for animal shows, and multiple exhibits for reptiles such as alligators, turtles and snakes. Also, the Jungle Cruise boat dock was moved to the island soon after it opened, and had 6 new boats that were electrically powered (rather than by diesel engine), could hold 70 people, and had a speed of 8-knots when fully loaded. When it opened, the island also had a gift shop (Cypress Market), a snack shop and an open-air beer pavilion (Billy Bowlegs Cafe). During the 1997-1998 expansion of Silver Springs, "Big Gator Lagoon" and "Panther Prowl" were added to Cypress Island.
The area was renamed to "Ross Allen Island" on January 14, 2000, in honor of Allen's long-time contribution to Silver Springs through the Ross Allen Reptile Institute. Also on January 14, the "Florida Natives" exhibit was opened to the public.
Ross Allen Island was closed in March 2013 in preparation for the State of Florida's takeover of the park which was to happen in October of that year. All of the animals have been sold and most of the facilities on the island will be torn down, including the Fort King River Cruise (formerly Jungle Cruise) dock and the show amphitheaters. According to the Ocala Star-Banner, new bridges will also be built.
Twin Oaks Mansion and surrounding area
This area is basically the land between the glass bottom boat dock and the World of Bears area. Attractions in this area include the Twin Oaks Mansion, Kiddie Korral, the Giraffe exhibit, and the Silver River Showcase Theater, which are all now closed.
Twin Oaks Mansion was built during the 1997-98 expansion of Silver Springs, and is solely used for the Silver Springs annual "Concert Series". Giraffes that resided at Silver Springs were also moved to the current exhibit during the 1997-98 expansion. The Silver River Showcase Theater is an outdoor "theater" which hosted the "Wings of the Springs" show before it was shut down.
World of Bears
The World of Bears area was mainly constructed during the 1997-98 expansion of Silver Springs. The things in that area include the World of Bears, Wilderness Trail ride, a gift shop, Kids Ahoy! Playland, the carousel, and formerly was the location of the "Lost River Voyage" boat ride. During the 2013 state takeover of the park, this entire area was basically shut down, and most of the facilities will be destroyed.
Rides and Activities
Located near "Kids Ahoy! Playland" and "Kritter Korral", the 40 passenger carousel is decorated with endangered animals to ride on.
Glass Bottom Boat Rides
Silver Springs' world-renowned "Glass Bottom Boats" take guests on tours of the Silver River, which has its head waters within the park. From the glass bottom boats guests can observe many of the rivers springs and wildlife.
Located near the headwaters of the Silver River, the Lighthouse Ride combines the features of a carousel and a gondola ride. Passengers rise up to 80 feet above ground to get a panoramic view of the Silver River and the land around it. It will be taken apart in 2013 before the state takes over the park.
Wilderness Trail Ride
The "Wilderness Trail Ride" is a JEEP ride where guests are taken through a 35-acre section of forest surrounding the park to see many of the native species of animals and see more Silver Springs history (such as Rhesus Monkeys and Tarzan's house from the original Tarzan movies filmed in the 1930s).
"Wings of the Springs" Show
The "Wings of the Springs" show is located in the outdoor Silver River Showcase Theater, near the Giraffe exhibit. It showcases many birds from around the world. Some of those birds including Parrots, Ducks, Raptors (Eagles, Hawks, Owls, etc.), and other birds.
The current show times are as follows: 12:00 noon on weekdays; 12:00 noon and 2:00 PM on Saturday and Sunday.
Kids Ahoy! Playland
Built in 1998, the "Kids Ahoy! Playland" is an area where kids can climb ropes, slide down slides, crawl through tubes, and more! There's also a small ride with miniature motorboats for small children to ride in, although it is often closed.
These are all of the former animal exhibits at Silver Springs. They are all former because all of the remaining exhibits were shut down in 2013 to make way for the state's takeover of the park.
Big Gator Lagoon
Big Gator Lagoon is a multiple-acre exhibit that housed over 20 American alligators at its time of closure in 2013. It maintained a swamp look to coincide with the alligators' natural habitat. It was constructed during the 1997-98 expansion of Silver Springs, and was closed with Ross Allen Island in March 2013.
"Florida Natives" exhibit
The Florida Natives exhibit was opened to the public on January 14, 2000, along with the official dedication ceremony that renamed "Cypress Island" to "Ross Allen Island". When it opened it contained otters, many types of snakes, and other reptiles. The otter exhibit was closed off in 2012, most likely due to financial problems (considering that there were three otters at the time of its closure). It was closed when Ross Allen Island closed as a whole in March 2013.
The Giraffe exhibit in Silver Springs dates back to the early 1980s, and is likely even older than that. The current exhibit is a large roped area with a barn for the giraffes in the center of it. It isn't actually "closed", but it is empty since "Khama", the last Giraffe at Silver Springs, passed away on December 19, 2012.
Panther Prowl is only accessible from Ross Allen Island, but isn't located on the island itself. It was built during the 1997-98 expansion of Silver Springs. It was closed along with Ross Allen Island in March 2013, and housed one Florida Panther and two Western Cougars when it closed.
World of Bears
World of Bears was the bear exhibit at Silver Springs. It housed three Kodiak bears and five Black bears when it closed in May 2013. When it was built in 1997, it housed many species of bears, such as Black bears, Kodiak bears, Spectacled bears, and even a Polar bear in the winter. Its last day of operation was on May 23, 2013.
Rides, Exhibits and Activities
These rides and exhibits are listed in the order that they were closed in, rather than alphabetical order or chronological order of when they were opened.
Silver Springs Reptile Institute
Founded by Ross Allen in 1929, the Silver Springs Reptile Institute (more commonly known as the "Ross Allen Reptile Institute")is where the famous herpetologist pioneered many snake anti-venoms, including dried anti-venom. He also imported venoms for medical and biochemical purposes. It was originally located near the current entrance to the park, but was demolished and moved to the newly excavated Cypress Island in the 1970s. It was also expanded on Cypress Island, as it now had three large amphitheaters for animal shows. The official term and structure of "Ross Allen Reptile Institute" was no longer used after the 1970s presumably since ABC had bought the institute years beforehand and Allen had retired. Some "traditions" such as milking rattlesnakes were eventually forgotten, but the park still used the premises until 2013 for less dangerous animal shows and animal exhibits; mainly exhibiting diverse crocodile and other similar species.
"A Touch of Garlits"
"A Touch of Garlits" was opened in 1994. It was a museum that focused on antique cars and race cars. It is thought to have been like a smaller "branch" of Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing, which is located near Silver Springs in Ocala.
Lost River Voyage
"Lost River Voyage" originally opened in 1991. It started where the television series "Sea Hunt" was originally filmed and continues one mile down the Silver River. It was closed in 2011, most likely due to financial problems in the park.
"Reptiles of the World" Show
The "Reptiles of the World" show was located on Ross Allen Island, and featured Alligators, Crocodiles and Turtles. It was located in one of the three wooden amphitheaters originally built for the "Silver Springs Reptile Institute" in the 1970s. It was closed in March 2013 along with the rest of Ross Allen Island.
Non-Venomous Snake Show
The Non-Venomous Snake show gives park guests a chance to interact and learn about many non-venomous snake species from around the world. Park guests will also learn about the important role that non-venomous snakes play in the local environment. It was located in one of the three wooden amphitheaters on Ross Allen Island originally built for the "Silver Springs Reptile Institute" in the 1970s. It was closed in March 2013 along with the rest of Ross Allen Island.
Fort King River Cruise
The "Fort King River Cruise" takes guests on a trip up the Fort King Waterway. On that voyage, guests are treated to many historical scenes and exhibits from Silver Spring's past, including replicas of a Seminole Indian village, 1830s Fort King Army Stockade, and a Florida pioneer "Cracker" homestead. It was originally known as the "Jungle Cruise" (which let guests see Zebras, Giraffes, Monkeys, and other jungle-themed animals), but was changed into the Fort King River Cruise in the 2000s when park official s decided that they didn't want so many non-native animals to be at the park. It was closed in March 2013 along with the rest of Ross Allen Island.
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