Suwannee River

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This article is about the river in the southern United States. For the Stephen Foster song, see Old Folks at Home.
Suwannee River.jpg
Suwannee River, Florida
Country United States
 - left Santa Fe River
 - right Alapaha River, Withlacoochee River
Cities Fargo, Georgia, White Springs, Florida, Branford, Florida
Source Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
 - location Fargo, GA
Mouth Gulf of Mexico
 - location Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge, Suwannee, FL
 - elevation 0 ft (0 m)
 - coordinates 29°17′18″N 83°9′57″W / 29.28833°N 83.16583°W / 29.28833; -83.16583Coordinates: 29°17′18″N 83°9′57″W / 29.28833°N 83.16583°W / 29.28833; -83.16583
Length 246 mi (396 km)
Suwannee River Drainage Basin

The Suwannee River (also spelled Suwanee River) is a major river of southern Georgia and northern Florida in the United States. It is a wild blackwater river, about 246 miles (396 km) long.[1] The Suwannee River is the site of the prehistoric Suwanee Straits which separated peninsular Florida from the panhandle.



The river rises in the Okefenokee Swamp, emerging at Fargo, Georgia. The river then runs southwest into Florida, dropping in elevation through limestone layers resulting in a rare Florida whitewater rapid. It then turns west near White Springs, Florida, receiving the waters of the Alapaha and Withlacoochee rivers, which together drain much of south-central Georgia. This meandering forms the southern border of Hamilton County, Florida. It then bends south near Ellaville, Florida, then southeast near Luraville, Florida, receives the Santa Fe River from the east just below Branford, then south again to the Gulf of Mexico near the town of Suwannee.

Suwannee Valley[edit]

As the river turns north-northwest near White Springs, Florida, it begins to border the Suwannee Valley and Suwannee County. This continues to form a "C"-shaped curve as it drops southeast, and south again.


Several theories exist about the origin of the name "Suwannee":

  • Jerald Milanovich states that "Suwannee" developed through "San Juan-ee" from the 17th-century Spanish mission of San Juan de Guacara, located on the river known to the Spanish as "Guacara".[2]
  • A University of South Florida web site states the "Timucuan Indian word Suwani means Echo River ... River of Reeds, Deep Water, or Crooked Black Water".[3]
  • William Bright says the name "Suwanee" comes from the name of a Cherokee village, Sawani.[4]


The Suwannee River area has been inhabited by humans for thousands of years. During the first millennium CE, it was inhabited by the people of the Weedon Island archaeological culture, and around 900 CE, a derivative local culture, known as the Suwanee River Valley culture, developed.[citation needed]

By the 16th century, the river was inhabited by two closely related Timucua language-speaking peoples: the Yustaga, who lived on the west side of the river; and the Northern Utina, who lived on the east side.[5]

In the 18th century, Seminoles lived by the river.[citation needed]

The steamboat Madison operated on the river before the Civil War, and the sulphur springs at White Springs became popular as a health resort, with 14 hotels in operation in the late 19th century.[citation needed]


"Historic Suwannee River" sign with the first line of sheet music from "Old Folks at Home", at Interstate 75's crossing of the Suwannee.

This river is the subject of the Stephen Foster song "Old Folks at Home", in which he calls it the Swanee Ribber. Foster had named the Pedee River of South Carolina in his first lyrics. It has been called Swanee River because Foster had used an alternative contemporary spelling of the name.[6] Foster never actually saw the river he made world-famous.[citation needed]

George Gershwin's song, with lyrics by Irving Caesar, and made popular by Al Jolson, is also spelled "Swanee" and boasts that "the folks up North will see me no more when I get to that Swanee shore".[citation needed]

Both of these songs feature banjo-strumming and reminiscences of a plantation life more typical of 19th-century South Carolina than of among the swamps and small farms in the coastal plain of south Georgia and north Florida.[citation needed]

Don Ameche starred as Foster in the fictional biographical film Swanee River (1939).[citation needed]

When approaching the Suwannee River via several major highways, motorists are greeted with a sign which announces they are crossing the Historic Suwannee River, complete with the first line of sheet music from "Old Folks at Home". This is Florida's state song, designated as such in 1935.[citation needed]

In 2008, its original lyrics were replaced[7] with a politically correct version.[8] There is a Foster museum and carillon tower at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in White Springs. The spring itself is called White Sulphur Springs because of its high sulphur content. Since there was a belief in the healing qualities of its waters, the Springs were long popular as a health resort.[citation needed]

The idiom "up the Swannee" or "down the swanny" means something is going badly wrong, analogous to "up the creek without a paddle".[citation needed]


A unique aspect of the Suwannee River is the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail, a cooperative effort by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Suwannee River Water Management District, and the cities, businesses. and citizens of the eight-county Suwannee River Basin region. The boating route encompasses 170 river miles (274 river kilometers), from Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park to the Gulf of Mexico.[citation needed]

The Florida National Scenic Trail runs along the Suwannee River's western banks for approximately 60 miles (97 km), from Deep Creek Conservation Area in Columbia County to Twin Rivers State Forest in Madison County.[citation needed]

The Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge offers bird and wildlife observation, wildlife photography, fishing, canoeing, hunting, and interpretive walks. A driving tour is under construction, and several boardwalks and observation towers offer views of wildlife and habitat.[citation needed]

In recent years, the Suwannee River has been the site of many music gatherings. Magnolia Festival, SpringFest, and Wanee have been held annually in Live Oak, Florida, at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, adjacent to the river. Performing artists have included Vassar Clements, Peter Rowan, David Grisman, Allman Brothers Band, and the String Cheese Incident.[citation needed]


1908 postcard: "Away Down the Suwanee River"
Crossing Carries Image Location ID number Coordinates


Suwannee River Sill Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
US 441.svg US 441
Georgia 89.svg SR 89
Georgia 94.svg SR 94
Edith, Georgia to Fargo, Georgia
Crossing Carries Image Location ID number Coordinates


Hamilton County Road 6 FL.svg CR 6 290027
Ed Scott Bridge US 41.svg US 41 White Springs, Florida 290083
J. Graham Black-Joseph W. McAlpin Bridge Florida 136.svg SR 136 White Springs FL SR 136 bridge02.jpg White Springs, Florida 290030
I-75.svg Interstate 75
Old US 129 Bridge 93rd Drive
Suwannee Springs Bridge.jpg Suwannee Springs, Florida
US 129.svg US 129 Suwannee Springs, Florida 320019
County 249.svg CR 249 320052
Rail Bridge CSX Transportation Ellaville, Florida
Hillman Bridge(a.k.a.; Old Ellaville Bridge) Old US 90
Ellaville FL US 90 Hillman bridge north03.jpg Ellaville, Florida
US 90.svg US 90 Ellaville FL US 90 bridge west01.jpg Ellaville, Florida 350062
I-10.svg Interstate 10 Suwannee River State Park
County Road 250 Dowling Park FL CR 250 bridge west under01.jpg Dowling Park, Florida 370018
Hal W. Adams Bridge Florida 51.svg SR 51 Luraville FL Hal Adams bridge north01.jpg Mayo to Luraville, Florida 330009
Drew Bridge Suwannee & San Pedro Railroad
Frank R. Norris Bridge US 27.svg US 27 Branford FL Frank Norris Bridge01.jpg Branford, Florida
W. O. Cannon - D. W. McCollister Bridge County Road 340 Bell Cannon Bridge01.jpg Bell, Florida 310002
Nature Coast State Trail Old Town Nature Coast Trail SP bridge03.jpg Old Town, Florida
Joe H. Anderson Sr. Bridge US 19.svg US 19
US 98.svg US 98
Alt plate.svg
US 27.svg Alternate US 27
Fanning Springs Park Suwannee03.jpg Fanning Springs, Florida 300031, 300061

See also[edit]


  1. ^ U.S. Geological Survey. National Hydrography Dataset high-resolution flowline data. The National Map, accessed April 18, 2011
  2. ^ Milanich:12-13
  3. ^ "The Suwannee River, Exploring Florida: A Social Studies Resource for Students and Teachers". College of Education, University of South Florida. 2002. Retrieved 2010-08-18. 
  4. ^ Bright, William (2004). Native American placenames of the United States. University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 466–467. ISBN 978-0-8061-3598-4. Retrieved 2011-04-11. 
  5. ^ Worth vol. I, pp. 28–29.
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Summary of Bills Related to Arts, Cultural, Arts Education. Or Historical Resources That Passed the 2008 Florida Legislature May 5, 2008", Retrieved on 2011-12-14 from
  8. ^ Center for American Music. "Old Folks at Home". Center for American Music Library. Archived from the original on 2009-03-13. Retrieved 2012-10-01. 


External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Light, H.M., et al. (2002). Hydrology, vegetation, and soils of riverine and tidal floodplain forests of the lower Suwannee River, Florida, and potential impacts of flow reductions [U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1656A]. Denver: U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey.