Every year, hundreds of local college students flock to Ginnie Springs as soon as it gets warm enough to take a dip. The blue water, wildlife and lack of cell service make up the perfect getaway. It’s practically a rite of passage to buy a tube from Five Below and spend 30 minutes blowing it up before jumping in the water.
After enjoying the springs, many students head home — back to reality.
What most students miss is the small town located just six miles from the nature spot: High Springs, Florida.
With a population of about 6,500 people, High Springs is a small, tight-knit community. The town has a rich history and plenty of activities despite its small size.
Beginning as a phosphate mining town in the 1830s, High Springs was originally called Santaffey, a misspelling of the adjacent Santa Fe River. It was established in 1884 as a railroad town, and it was the only town in the area for decades, said Chamber of Commerce President Sharon Decker.
The railroads were in use until 2005, but now the area is largely agricultural, Decker said.
High Springs has kept its old-fashioned feel alive with small, locally-owned businesses supported by the community.
From art supply stores and antique shops to ‘50s-themed ice cream shops, High Springs’ town center is packed with high-quality businesses.
Lanza Gallery & Art Supplies is the perfect stop for any student. Shop owner Tina Corbett helps visiting students as much as she can, provides valuable insights for the best materials and gives student discounts.
Corbett involves local artists in her business and supports other local art teachers.
“If I ever need a professional art teacher, and oil, acrylic watercolor, or even graphic arts, I will invite them to my store to teach a workshop,” Corbett said.
Corbett is also part of a local “plein air” group, which is a method of painting where people paint on location together. Although there are regular members who attend, the group always welcomes new members.
Her store is located in the town center and is next door to a handmade goods store called Unique Notions, which sells the goods of many younger creators who Corbett has gotten to know.
High Springs has several other stores with different interesting finds.
The Bird Nest is a local antique store and market that combines new and old. April Goodman, the store’s owner, opened the shop in 2017.
On any typical day, locals and tourists from all around the world go to the store for interesting finds. Goodman is excited to meet whoever walks through the door. She’s had customers from as far as Australia, she said.
Goodman’s mother owned an antique store, so she wanted to take the same path. She knew it was the place for her after she opened her business in High Springs.
Originally from Georgia, she moved back home for 14 months to be closer to her daughter but quickly realized she missed the community in High Springs.
“They’re like extended family,” Goodman said.
Tourists immediately feel a strong sense of community as soon as they walk into any of the stores, Goodman said.
Goodman recently saw visitors from the Florida Keys, and they were enchanted by how kind everybody was. Now, they’re considering buying a home in High Springs, Goodman said.
Decker felt the same after she moved to High Springs three years ago.
Decker moved to High Springs and became chamber president because she was passionate about popularizing the small town. She fell in love with the atmosphere, but the people drew her in most, she said.
“When you go in their shops, they make you feel like you’re at home,” Decker said. “You never meet a stranger here.”
Since she moved to High Springs, she has watched the town grow, but it hasn’t lost its sense of home. Instead of new development, the town is dedicated to restoration to keep its history, Decker said.
The fusion of old and new rings true for the town as a whole. While the town has gained popularity, the people have the same kindness about them that they always have.
Contact Leia at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @UlrichLeia.