Articulate December 2018 Featured Carousel

High Springs more than just shopping and dining

Written By: Chris Eversole, Photo by: John Sloan & Allison Durham

Connie and Mike Casey frequently visited High Springs during the 25 years that they lived in Gilchrist County, and they finally moved there 15 years ago.

“We always came over for the shops and restaurants,” Connie Casey said. “It’s such a walkable community with so much to do.”

Two years ago, the Caseys opened River
Run Olive Co., which sells 40 flavors of olive oil – a product that is in vogue for its taste and health benefits.

“Our big selling point is that you can taste it before you buy it,” Casey said.

When the Caseys sought a place for their store, seven buildings were vacant – no more.
All the available storefronts in a mile and half
of downtown are full, and High Springs is thriving, fueled by cooperation among business owners working in tandem with city government.

“It’s really cool,” Casey said. “There’s a lot
more enthusiasm.”

The city’s Community Redevelopment Agency is working on improvements in keeping with High Springs’ heritage – from restoring the 19th century train depot to planning new homes in the historic Douglass neighborhood.

“A lot of places talk about new urbanism, but we’re enhancing what we’ve always had – a great small town,” said CRA Director Kristina Wright.

International Draw

High Springs’ appeal extends beyond daytrips for shopping and dining. Cave divers from around the world seek out the maze of caves, primarily at Ginnie Springs.

“We have a lot of Germans, as well as many Russians,” Casey said.

Cave diving has a “mysterious allure,” National Geographic Adventure noted in an article quoting famed diver Jill Heinerth.

“For me, swimming in these groundwater environments is like swimming through the veins of Mother Earth and the lifeblood of the planet,” she said. “It’s almost a spiritual reckoning.”

High Springs sports two dive-related retailers – Cave Country Dive Shop and Extreme Exposure. Halcyon Manufacturing, based in the city, is a top producer of diving equipment.

“Halcyon began as a group of divers who knew what they wanted but could not find it in any dive store,” states the corporate website.

The Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute, a nonprofit devoted to protecting natural resources, is headquartered downtown.

Entertainment and Events

The Great Outdoors Restaurant hosts musicians on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, and the Music in the Park concert series runs on Sundays from January through August. Merchants work together to host monthly First Fridays, when shops stay open later than normal.

The annual Folk in the Springs festival, held each September, has been running the past five years. Lanza Gallery has hosted the Santa Fe Springs Plein Air Paintout the past three years.

All of the attractions and activities keep the Grady House Bed and Breakfast busy. Bobbie Sabo, who bought the business a year ago, is enhancing the gardens to make the place even more of a draw.

“There really is no way to predict what is our busy season,” Sabo said. “It’s affected by many things. If the rivers or springs are too high, we may have fewer visitors. The performance of the UF football team even affects people attracted to the area.”

Flexibility is Key

Being flexible is a theme in High Springs’ history.
The town has moved on from its original economic drivers of railroads and phosphate mining.

The Priest Theatre, which opened in 1910, has adapted to changing times. In early days, vaudeville and traveling acts were common, the Chamber of Commerce’s website reported. Silent movies,with piano accompaniment, came along, only to be upgraded to “talkies.”

A fundraising campaign six years ago helped the theater make the $85,000 conversion from film to digital projectors – saving the theater from closing, and the Priest continues to show first-run movies on Friday, Saturday and Monday.

As they broadened their offerings at the River Run Olive Co., the Caseys started chef dinners – with a different guest cook each month. At first, they offered the dinners for free, but the couple started charging $10 a plate and then raised the price to $15 to cover expenses.

“We’re sold out in advance,” Connie Casey said. “People who attend each month sign up for the next two to three months.”

Eat, Experience & Shop in High Springs

High Springs is a thriving small town that attracts a unique variety of businesses to the area due to the low amount of traffic, a small-town feeling, top-rated schools and, of course, the beautiful nature of its springs and caves.

The new and thriving First Friday series features businesses open late for guests to tour the restaurants, shops and arts and listen to live music. Many of these are featured below.

Great Outdoors

A unique restaurant featuring fresh Florida-style food, live music on the patio and drink specials almost every day per week. A staple of High Springs, the location can host events and parties in several spaces for weddings, showers or other special occasions.

Bambi’s Farm Fresh Natural Food Market and Restaurant

A farm, market and restaurant committed to growing organic produce without chemicals and pesticides. It grows and sells seasonal fruits and vegetables all-year-round. Bambi’s hosts a community-supported agriculture (CSA) to receive an assortment of fresh harvested vegetables and herbs weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. Its café features freshly prepared lunches every day, and on the first Friday of every month, it hosts a five-course food fest featuring the freshest ingredients.

Bev’s Burger Café

Lauded by many as having one of the best burgers in Greater Gainesville, Bev’s Burger Café is no frills but full of delicious country-style food and, of course, a variety of delicious hamburgers. Bev’s also features an assortment of delicious barbecue meals to satisfy all tastes.

Lanza Art Gallery

Selling fine art paintings, pottery and jewelry as well as art supplies for the budding artist or craftsman, Lanza also offers children’s and adult art classes and workshops, including “Paint, Sip, Create,” which is held at the High Springs Environmental Center and benefits the local springs. The gallery also hosts special events around specific topics and culture. Lanza is a member of the Florida Quilt Mural Trail, and its quilt mural was painted by owner and artist Tina Corbett.

High Springs Emporium

Explore the only rock and mineral shop in North Central Florida. The High Springs Emporium sells rare minerals, quartz crystals from all over the world and unusual gemstone spheres. It also offers workshops, special orders and gem and mineral valuation.

Antique Center of High Springs

A member of the Florida Antique Trail, this shop sells vintage pieces representative of the area as well as pieces brought here by settlers. Among the items for sale are books, vintage typewriters, tinware, pottery, tools, toys, kitchenware, china, dishes and an array of furniture. The Antique Center is also a member of the Florida Mural Quilt Trail.

The Grady House

Stay in the heart of High Springs in this beautiful and charming bed and breakfast. Relax in the gazebo with a freshly prepared drink, read a book and tour the gardens. Minutes from the shops and restaurants of downtown, guests can spend their days dining and shopping or enjoying the water sports available in the nearby springs.

Cave Country Diving

Experience one of the more popular activities around High Springs and learn all about cave diving and how to use the best equipment. Centrally located near several world-class natural springs, divers from all over the world visit Cave Country Diving. In addition to selling equipment, it offers courses on diving.

High Springs Museum

The museum is open on select weekends of the month and is dedicated to preserving the history of “The Railroad Center” and the life and times of the 1800s to early 1900s—which is one of the most important times in the history of High Springs. Beginning in the 1800s, High Springs was a core part of the Plant System Rail Yard and Roundhouse. The museum features Native American artifacts, clothing and items from the original general store and railroad memorabilia.

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