Underwater archeology and Mid-century Modern Architecture are two things that usually don’t appear in the same sentence. But at North Port’s storied Warm Mineral Springs, visitors will find both of these and plenty more.
In a nutshell, Warm Mineral Springs is a giant sinkhole that is fed by mineral-rich springs. So rich, in fact, that people flock from all over the world to paddle around in the waters. It has also drawn permanent residents to North Port, especially from Eastern Europe, where bathing in such springs is enormously popular. Interestingly, it is also Florida’s only warm water mineral spring and was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in late 1977.
As Florida gained popularity in the aftermath of World War II, so did Warm Mineral Springs. By the 1950s the site was popular enough that buildings were constructed around it, including a gift shop, restaurant and changing areas for bathers. Much of this is classic Mid-century Modern architecture and is generally attributed to Jack West, a prominent figure in the Sarasota School of Architecture. Visitors can even stay overnight at the nearby Warm Mineral Springs Motel, a classic from 1958 that was designed by Victor Lundy, another key architect of the Sarasota School.
For anyone who is interested in geology and archeology, Warm Mineral Springs is a treasure trove. In profile, it resembles an hourglass and was formed by solutional activity in porous limestone that led to the collapse of a cavern roof during the Pleistocene period. It is fed by geothermal water flows to the tune of 20 million gallons a day, some of which comes from small underwater caves but mostly from a large vent 207 feet below the surface. That water in turn appears to come largely from the floor of a small cavern connected to the sinkhole.
Archeologically, Warm Mineral Springs is one of the most important Paleoindian sites in North America. In the late 1950s, amateur archeologist William Royal became the first diver to explore the bottom of the sinkhole. He and other divers found human remains that ultimately led to the re-writing of human settlement history in Florida. Prior to Royal’s work, it was believed that human habitation began around 7,000 years ago but based on the findings of Royal and others, this date was pushed back to around 10,000 years ago.
Serious study of the site was undertaken in 1972 by Florid State University archeologist Wilburn Cockrell and continued off and on well into the 1980s. Ultimately, the explorations yielded the remains of 20 or more Paleoindians as well as the bones of a saber-toothed cat, a giant sloth, and other prehistoric mammals. Also found was an 11,000-year-old skeleton held in place by stalactites, thus making it one of the earliest intentional burials ever found in North America.
Needless to say, collecting has been off-limits for decades. But Warm Mineral Springs is still a must-see attraction. Now owned by the city of North Port, visitors can pay to enjoy the park on a daily basis, with a discount offered to Sarasota County residents. The park is run by a professional management company and spa services have been added in addition to the swimming opportunities. Being able to enjoy warm mineral-laden waters while floating over one of the nation’s most important archeological sites definitely makes Warm Mineral Springs a Florida original.
Warm Mineral Springs is located at 12200 San Servando Ave., North Port.
For more information, visit www.cityofnorthport.com/visitors/visit-north-port/warm-mineral-springs-park.