The Omaha Springs Hotel (built in the early 1900s) is among the last surviving resort hotels of the mineral springs era, a time when the purported healing properties of the state’s abundant natural springs attracted visitors from all over the country. Many locations featured hotels and cabins but most have long been demolished. In A Preliminary Report on the Mineral Springs of Georgia (Atlanta, 1913), state geologist S. W. McCallie noted: This group of springs…are situated in a dense grove at the base of a rather precipitous hill-slope…One of the largest of the springs from which a sample of water was secured for analysis flows something like 100 gallons per minute. The main improvement consists of a well-built hotel of 24 rooms. The water from these springs is said to have a considerable sale in Augusta…and is well suited as a table water.
The structure is a private residence and can only be seen from a gate. Without the longtime stewardship of the Fleming family, who owned and maintained the property for decades, this treasure would surely have not survived.
70,000 gallons of water issue from the underground caves at Radium Springs every minute, making it the largest springs in the state. It’s considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia and is located just outside Albany. Over a quarter mile of the underground caves encompassing the springs were mapped by Deloach, Young, and Exley, for the National Speleological Society. Features of the caves have names like Fat Man’s Misery, Mermaid’s Tunnel, Hall of Giants, and Neptune’s Trident. Only the most experienced divers have ever seen these wonders and though rare, permits are occasionally still issued to experts wishing to explore the area. Guy Bryant has shared some nice footage on YouTube.
It was a revered ceremonial site first known as Skywater to Native Americans. After encroachment in the 1830s it came to be known as Blue Springs and was a popular swimming hole with pioneer settlers of Albany and surrounding areas. Standing near the cave entrance/springhead today, one is likely to see numerous fish schooling, including Gulf striped bass which wouldn’t be here without the cool temperature of the springs.
By the early 20th century, its prominence as a commercial recreational site was ensured and developers constructed a restaurant and guest cottages to meet the needs of day trippers who enjoyed bathing in its waters, which were a constant 68 degrees. Traces of radium were found in the water in the 1920s and the name was changed to Radium Springs to reflect this discovery. Mineral springs were all the rage in the era as they were thought to have healing powers and this only added to the popularity of the site.
The Radium Springs Casino was completed in 1927. It rose above terraced stone walls and featured a cavernous dance hall and elegant dining room.
A fire in 1982 and devastating floods in 1994 and 1998 damaged the casino beyond repair. The remaining structure was removed in 2003.
A courtyard stands today on the site of the casino and features interpretive signs detailing the history of Radium Springs.
The stonework surrounding the springs and pool is one of the most significant remaining architectural features of the site.
These features are generally not accessible today, though, as they are beginning to crumble and in serious need of restoration.
This is one of two gazebos that were located along the beach.
The spring run which empties into the Flint River is known as Skywater Creek.
The ruins of the main gazebo are being restored.
They’re located just inside the historic gate. Both structures date to the 1920s, when the casino was constructed. At the peak of the site’s popularity, a nearby golf course was equally popular as the springs and attracted notables, including the great golfer Bobby Jones.
The entrance gate is a monumental Colonial Revival landmark.
It features two ticket booths.
Known today as Radium Springs Gardens, it’s operated by the City of Albany and admission is free. It’s a wonderful green space that everyone should see at least once. Though swimming or fishing is no longer allowed, it’s a wonderful place to unwind.
Approaching Kite from the east on Highway 57, you cross the Little Ohoopee River. The remains of a very large swimming pool stand between the river and the buildings discussed later in this post. Martha Claxton Hill writes: The swimming pool was called “Beeline Springs”. Earnest Claxton owned all of the land around the pool. It was a special place in its day. In a time when private pools were a domain of the wealthy, public pools such as this were among the most popular recreation spots of their day.
Ernest Claxton’s daughter, Lynn Paul Neal penned the following remembrance in Emanuel County’s 2013 Bicentennial Celebration Book. Thanks to Mary Ann Smith for bringing it to my attention and procuring permission from Mrs. Neal to share it here.
Remember Bee Line Springs?
Earnest Claxton built the Bee Line Springs Swimming Pool and Recreation Park just outside of Kite on the Ohoopee River. It had a skating and dancing pavilion that was also used for reunions and family get-togethers.
Three artesian wells supplied icy cold water for the swimming pool. One side of the pool had dressing rooms and there were cabins that were rented on the property.
Several nationally known bands of the late 1920s and 1930s played there. Ernest would find a band enroute from Miami to New York City or vice-versa and book them to stop on their way to play for a one-night dance. These occasions drew tremendous crowds.
You can still see the old swimming pool outline thru the trees on the south side of Hwy 57 near the ‘Hoopee River.
Many public pools featured skating rinks, bowling alleys and/or restaurant, but this structure is too small to have been either of those. And Martha Claxton Hill notes that it was not here when the pool was open. Grady C. Riner writes: That block building was built years after the pool was grown over and broken. It was built as a juke joint ( in todays words a bar) It had the juke box for music and dancing. After it was closed as a juke joint it was used as a house. My aunt lived in it for years with her two young boys.
A shed-sized structure is located just to the left of the larger building.
Jay Bird Springs has been a well-known recreation area since about 1907, when Georgia’s first public swimming pool was built utilizing the waters of a natural spring emanating in the adjacent Gum Swamp (Little Ocmulgee River). The water is thought to have healing qualities and has had thousands of devotees over the past century. It was so famous that it was delivered to homes and businesses throughout the region in the earliest years of the operation. The motel and welcome center seen above and the miniature golf course below are all I was able to photograph, as the facility is now a spiritually-based rehabilitation center and the residents were conducting Sunday services near the pool area. Even though the gentleman I spoke to said I could take a few quick shots, I declined out of respect. I do hope to get back at some time and get a few more shots.
Due to the overwhelming response of my first post about Crystal Lake a couple of months ago, I’m sharing these outtakes to round out the July 4th holiday weekend. I think it’s an appropriate tie-in considering that Charlie Daniels played a huge Independence Day concert here in the late 1970s and for many years it was a favorite summer destination for thousands of South Georgians.
The palm trees weren’t natural to the park, but they sure made it feel more like the beach. Of course, water slides were always the favorite attraction for young and old alike.
Lots of people have asked me about the Rampage, which was one of the most popular attractions at Crystal Lake. Here are two shots of this high-speed water slide, one from the lake bed and another from the front.
I believe there were several of these metal mushroom umbrellas on the pavilion side of the lake.
The area known as Varsity Beach was located on the far side of the lake.
It was more natural than the pavilion side and set in a nice stand of oak trees.
Many hope the lake will once again be a family destination, but this is not likely.
Historically known as Bone Pond, Crystal Lake was, at least from the late 1930s until its closure, a wildly popular rural recreation spot. It was originally known as Bone Pond, for Willis Bone, who ran a grist mill at the site. Bone has traditionally been vilified in local circles as a Union sympathizer because in 1861 he harbored Tony Young, a runaway slave from nearby Rebecca, on his property. When Judge Walker of Irwin County went to the mill to question Bone about the enslaved man, he found them working some fields on the property. An argument between Bone and the judge ensued and Bone struck and killed the judge with a rock. Bone then buried the judge in a shallow grave near the lake. When Walker didn’t return home, a posse went to find him. They didn’t find Tony Young, but they did recover the body of Judge Walker. Bone denied any involvement, but the posse lynched him almost immediately in a tree beside the mill pond. His family was allowed to leave the county. Years later, Bone’s son stated that after Bone killed Judge Walker, he killed Tony Young and threw his body into the deepest section of the lake.
Mr. Bone’s great-great-great grandson, Richard Thornton, sheds new light on the story: “His son was a soldier in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. The Bones were Creek Indians. Most Creeks did not believe in slavery and traditionally helped runaway slaves”. Thornton also dispelled the long-held local legend that Bone was a Yankee, noting his birthplace was Elbert County, Georgia.
It was originally a pond of normal size but a sinkhole reportedly swallowed the mill and filled the surrounding area with water. In the recreational era, the water level was fed by numerous underground springs connected to the nearby Alapaha River, and has risen and fallen at different times throughout its existence. It’s completely dried up today and is no longer open to the public. I’m not sure who owned it after Willis Bone, but Dr. W. L. Story of Ashburn purchased it in the early 1920s. He was the first owner to see the recreational potential of the property. It is believed that much of the mythology surrounding the lake developed at this time. Many locals believed it to be haunted, and that the “Devil” had risen from the “bottomless pit”.
Mandy Bryant notes that her “grandfather, Leon Lewis, and Jehu Fletcher owned Crystal Lake for awhile in the 40′s and 50′s. My grandfather died in 1953 and at that time my mother (Athleen Lewis Harp) and her sister (Maudine Lewis Holden) bought Jehu Fletcher’s half. Then the three sisters sold the property.” The late A. N. Adcock, Jr., of Tifton. who was one of the greatest promoters of tourism in the region, was the owner who expanded and popularized the park. It is now used as a hunting club. The Adcock family has done a great job in regard to its general preservation, as the surrounding hammocks and scrublands are ecologically important habitats. I was fortunate enough to go riding in the woods at Crystal Lake with Mr. Adcock, along with my father and the late Milton Hopkins, in search of a rare bird whose identity I can no longer recall. It was probably around 1989 and even then, at the height of the park’s popularity, Mr. Adcock was deeply interested in preserving the natural history of this special place. Unfortunatley, as of 2015, much of the property has been clearcut.
This property is private and secure; if you go there seeking access you will be asked to leave or removed.
It was a big deal when the park closed, and apparently, it’s been sixteen years. There were times in the past when the lake was known to have dried up but it always naturally regenerated. I expect agricultural strains on the aquifer have rendered that impossible today.
At some point, as the park grew in popularity, the name was changed to Crystal Beach. I can remember a time when there was one of these bumper stickers on nearly every teenager’s vehicle in Ben Hill & Irwin Counties.
A large modern drive-through entrance gate was added in the 1990s. I remember the ticket booth pictured below.
This is the pavilion as it looked in the days when I was visiting Crystal Lake, from the 1970s to 1990s.
And here’s a postcard view of a smaller pavilion in the early 1960s.
As the postcard view indicates, there was nothing much on the beach in the 1960s, but by the 1970s and 1980s, growing crowds wanted more diverse things to do when spending the day.
I’m sure many people have memories of grilling hot dogs and hamburgers here.
Just past the picnic area and behind the pavilion was the real star attraction, the park’s first large waterslide. Derek Veal, who worked at the park as a teenager, reminded me that it was known as the “Slippery Dip”.
Other waterslides were added as the park expanded.
I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to see it one more time, but it is NOT publicly accessible nor do I have ability to get anyone access. Trespassing on the property is illegal and is watched closely.