Bones of prehistoric mammals and tools of paleo-Indians have been recovered from springs and rivers near High Springs. Hernando de Soto led his expedition through this area around 1539, and in the 17th century Indian villages and a large Spanish mission flourished near the Ichetucknee and Santa Fe Rivers.
The northwest region of Alachua County was probably first settled on a permanent basis by English speaking people during the late 1830`s. One of the earliest settlements `in the vicinity was a Crockett Springs, located about three miles east of present day High Springs. Settlers who were living there during the 1840`s included Fernando Underwood and Marshal Blanton. No town developed in the area before the latter part of the nineteenth century.
In 1884, the Savannah, Florida, and Western Railroad was extended from Live Oak to Gainesville. A post office and station were established here in that year under the name of Stantaffey, which was a common spelling of the name of the nearby Santa Fe River. The town was also known unofficially as Orion before the name was changed in 1880 to High Springs. In the next few years, high Springs boomed as a result of the development of phosphate mining in the area. In 1892, the town was incorporated. During the next year, the Savannah, Florida, and Western Railroad completed its South Florida Division which connected High Springs with Port Tampa. By the beginning of the twentieth century, High Springs was known as an important railroad center.
In later years, High Springs became the "Antique Capital" of North Central Florida. Quaint shops await you, friendly faces welcome you.
Today, visitors to the High Springs area prize these waters for their recreational value- for scuba diving, swimming, fishing, canoeing, and tubing- as well as their natural beauty.
Ichetucknee Springs State Park stretches along the crystal-clear, spring-fed Ichetucknee River, about fifteen miles north of High Springs. Dive the springs or drift along on an inner-tube through unspoiled natural wilderness.
Blue Springs is a must see - family owned and operated since 1958 with 250 acres of the "Real Florida". Stroll along 1/4 mile boardwalk as it follows the springs run into the scenic Santa Fe River, or gaze into the crystal blue depths from the dock overlooking the springs boil. A dip into 72 degree water is sure to leave you feeling refreshed and recharged.
Ginnie Springs is a mecca for serious scuba divers. Nine springs, including the incredible Devil's Eye, well up in sparkling abundance. Tubing and canoeing on the Santa Fe River and camping in wooded sites complement the excellent diving.
Poe Springs Park is five miles west of High Springs on the Santa Fe River. Recently renovated, it has been a popular attraction for decades.
O'Leno State Park, six miles north of the heart of High Springs, is on the site of the old town of Leno. Bypassed by the railroad, this unlucky town just evaporated. In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps developed it as one of Florida`s first state parks, and the rustic buildings and suspension bridge the CCC built over the Santa Fe River are still in use. Within the borders of the park is the land bridge created when the river sinks below the surface, only to emerge several miles away.
Camp Kulaqua, site of historic Hornsby Springs where many prehistoric artifacts have been recovered, offers horseback, camping, water sports and a zoo.
The Historic Priest Theatre, Est. 1910
The more than one century old building "The Priest Theatre," has quite the history. It was built in 1910, at 15 NW First Street in High Springs, Florida by William Jefferson Priest, who also owned the Priest Ford Motor car dealership.
Once built, W.J. Priest thought he would find the perfect name for the wonderful building by having a contest. The winning entry was "Dreamland Theater," but the city fathers of that era thought the name was much too risqué. Therefore, it seems very fitting that the building was named after its founder, W.J. Priest.
Some tales are that the building was built to store cars and parts for the Priest Ford Motor dealership business on Main Street. It was used for storage awhile when traveling vaudeville shows ceased. But after much research into the architecture and construction of the building, we found that the original purpose of the tall, cavernous building was for entertainment. The building includes a large open lobby and also a large auditorium that seats 240 people, along with a balcony, sloping floors in the main auditorium, a main entrance from the front and a side door entrance that led to the balcony, a balcony restroom, lobby restrooms for men and women, a complete raised stage including an arched opening with two great columns on both sides of the stage and stairs on opposite sides of the stage that led to the actors' dressing rooms. All these features still exist and most are functional.
In the beginning, vaudeville and traveling acts were performed. A talented ballet instructor tried to find talent from the area to perform on stage, but with no luck, only found what she called a bunch of "clumsy kids." In addition to the regular traveling acts, older members of the town would put on plays, one titled "The Womanless Wedding," in which all the actors were male.
There were many impressive performances on stage at the Priest. Smiley Burnett, who worked with Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and his horse Trigger, as well as on TV's Petticoat Junction, gave a great performance along with his dog. Other performances included a show where a Native American excited the locals by showing his bow and arrow skills. Lash La Rue, later a TV star who starred in works with Eddie Dean, performed his expert whip handling skills.
Eventually vaudeville and live performances were replaced with silent movies and music; usually a piano was used as accompaniment. Then in 1927 silent movies upgraded to "talkies" with the first commercially successful one being The Jazz Singer. As time progressed, people were enjoying the cinema and Hollywood was growing into a huge business. By the 1950's, the Priest Theatre's venue included up to five different movies each week. Today the Priest Theatre features three shows weekly: Friday, Saturday, and Monday evenings at 8pm. Visit the website at www.priesttheatre.com and like them on Facebook for updates on upcoming features and news.