Thursby House: Steamboats, Orange Groves & Manatees in 1850’s Florida

Hello, friends! The holiday season has let go of its hold on my attention & time, and I’m back and ready to dedicate more time into this project!

Just before the holidays, my husband and I were able to take a quick weekend trip down to see his parents who live about 45 minutes east of Orlando, Florida. My previous job in retail marketing didn’t allow me to take any time off from early November through January, so this was a luxury and something we were unable to do in years past. We were so happy to spend some time, even if only three days, with them during the holidays. That is what it’s all about, right?

But of course the Florida sunshine called my name from inside the house and I asked my husband if we could take a quick trip to Blue Springs State Park so I could get my fix of moss covered trees,  clear turquoise water, and fingers crossed, some manatees. We have visited this state park many times over the years, as it’s only 10 minutes from his parents home, and it’s well worth the minimal entry fee. I remembered that there was also a historic house on the property, and thought it would be a great double-whammy.

If you are ever in the area, I highly recommend a visit. On the day we were there, there were 107 manatees spotted, as they flock to the area for the natural warm spring that keeps the water temperature at a steady 72 degrees. The manatees get cold in the winter time and come in the hundreds to keep warm – and they’re so friggan cute! Like a pig mixed with a cow floating around in the water. During the height of winter park staff have counted over 400 at once here, which must be an incredible sight.

I digress – onto the Thursby house!

Historical Highlights 

  • Louis P. Thursby and his family settled on an inlet just off the St. Johns River in 1856, and I truly cannot imagine what kind of wild, jungle, rough terrain and existence Florida must have been at that time. Even just looking at wild, overgrown “woods” today in Florida gives me the heebie-jeebies thinking about all the bugs, snakes, itchy plants and god knows what else that is hiding in there. I truly can’t imagine forging your way through that type of landscape and choosing to live there, but I suppose someone had to do it!
  • Thursby built one of the first steamboat landings here, which was the only way of transportation to this part of Florida at the time. While the spring is beautiful with its clear, warm water, birdlife and what I would assume lots of fishing, the water is too sulfurous to drink, so aside from building their initial log cabin a water tank made out of cypress was imperative to survival.
  • Eventually Thursby became established as he is also known for planting some of the earliest orange groves in this area of the St. John’s river. Towards the end of the Civil War steamboat travel became increasingly popular, and he masterfully encouraged the shipment of local goods north. Due to this, in 1872 he was able to afford to build the home that you see today.
  • Eventually John Thursby, Louis’ son, added on a third floor and a kitchen, which are still intact today.
  • While I can confirm that this house, and the spring land itself, were acquired by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in 1972, I haven’t been able to confirm much of what happened before then. Some articles state there was a horrible freeze in 1855, which led many of the farmers in the area to move further south to grow their oranges, and others say that the introduction of the railroad simply stifled any further prosperity in this area. Likely both have some truth to them, but the home still stands today!

Favorite Places

Kitchen

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This is really the only furnished room in the house, the remainder of the home you can see is fairly empty otherwise (there are display cases that tell the story of the family & the area, but other than that it’s a quick visit). But, they do a great job with the kitchen and I particularly liked the “Wonder” (bread?) oven.

Porch

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If I put aside the whole mosquito aspect, I can imagine sitting on this porch on a quiet Sunday morning to be simply lovely. The manatees make funny noises that are louder than you may think – a bit like a pig as they come up to the surface for air and snort – and I’d bet you can hear it from the porch. Plus, who doesn’t love a good porch?

Front Yard

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No matter how many times I see it, I cannot get over how big and beautiful and mossy trees in the south are – and these trees are spectacular. Word to the wise – the moss is itchy and gross and full of bugs, don’t bother touching it.

Visiting Tips

  • It’s only $6 per carload, so pack a lunch and make a day of it! They also have a cute little general store for snacks and more.
  • While I enjoy simply walking along the board walk to see the manatees and other wildlife, there are a ton of activities to do here. You can rent kayaks or canoes, there is a wildlife boat ride you can take, camping, snorkeling, scuba diving and more. Check out their website before you go as I assume some of these activities are seasonal (I don’t think they allow you to swim with the manatees – sad but understandable).

Top Photos

Below are some of my favorite shots of Blue Springs State Park and the Thursby House, but I’ll be sharing more on our Facebook & Instagram page! Enjoy!

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