Suwannee River

The Suwannee River (also spelled Suwanee River) is a river that runs through south Georgia southward into Florida in the southern United States. It is a wild blackwater river, about 246 miles (396 km) long.[1] The Suwannee River is the site of the prehistoric Suwanee Straits that separated the panhandle from the continent.

The Suwannee River near Lake City, Florida
Suwannee River Drainage Basin
CountryUnited States
, Georgia (U.S. state), Florida
CitiesFargo, Georgia, White Springs, Florida, Branford, Florida
Physical characteristics
SourceOkefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
  locationFargo, Georgia
MouthGulf of Mexico
Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge, Suwannee, Florida
29°17′18″N 83°9′57″W
0 ft (0 m)
Length246 mi (396 km)
  locationGulf of Mexico
Basin features
  leftSanta Fe River
  rightAlapaha River, Withlacoochee River


The headwaters of the Suwannee River are in the Okefenokee Swamp in the town of Fargo, Georgia. The river runs southwestward into the Florida Panhandle, then drops in elevation through limestone layers into a rare Florida whitewater rapid. Past the rapid, the Suwanee turns west near the town of White Springs, Florida, then connects to the confluences of the Alapaha River and Withlacoochee River.

The confluences of these three rivers form the southern borderline of Hamilton County, Florida. The Suwanee then bends southward near the town of Ellaville, followed by Luraville, then joins together with the Santa Fe River from the east, south of the town of Branford.

The river ends and drains into the Gulf of Mexico on the outskirts of Suwannee.


The Spanish recorded the native Timucua name of Guacara for the river that would later become known as the Suwannee. Different etymologies have been suggested for the modern name.

  • San Juan: D.G. Brinton first suggested in his 1859 Notes on the Floridian Peninsula that Suwannee was a corruption of the Spanish San Juan.[2] This theory is supported by Jerald Milanich, who states that "Suwannee" developed through "San Juan-ee" from the 17th century Spanish mission of San Juan de Guacara, located on the Suwannee River.[3]
  • Shawnee: The migrations of the Shawnee (Shawnee: Shaawanwaki; Muscogee: Sawanoke) throughout the South have also been connected to the name Suwannee. As early as 1820, the Indian agent John Johnson said "the 'Suwaney' river was doubtless named after the Shawanoese [Shawnee], Suwaney being a corruption of Shawanoese."[4] However, the primary southern Shawnee settlements were along the Savannah River, with only the village of Ephippeck on the Apalachicola River being securely identified in Florida, casting doubt on this etymology.
  • "Echo": In 1884, Albert S. Gatschet claimed that Suwannee derives from the Creek word sawani, meaning "echo", rejecting the earlier Shawnee theory.[5] Stephen Boyd's 1885 Indian Local Names with Their Interpretation [6] and Henry Gannett's 1905 work The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States repeat this interpretation, calling sawani an "Indian word" for "echo river".[7] Gatschet's etymology also survives in more recent publications, often mistaking the language of translation. For example, a University of South Florida website states that the "Timucuan Indian word Suwani means Echo River ... River of Reeds, Deep Water, or Crooked Black Water".[8] In 2004, William Bright repeats it again, now attributing the name "Suwanee" to a Cherokee village of Sawani, which is unlikely as the Cherokee never lived in Florida or south Georgia.[9] This etymology is now considered doubtful: 2004's A Dictionary of Creek Muscogee does not include the river as a place-name derived from Muscogee, and also lacks entries for "echo" and for words such as svwane, sawane, or svwvne, which would correspond to the anglicization "Suwannee".[10]


The Suwannee River seen near Fanning Springs in 1949

The Suwannee River area has been inhabited by humans for thousands of years. During the first millennium it was inhabited by the people of the Weedon Island culture, and around the year 900 a derivative local culture known as the Suwanee River Valley culture developed.

By the 16th century, the river was inhabited by two closely related Timuca-speaking peoples: the Yustaga, who lived on the west side of the river; and the Northern Utina, who lived on the east side.[11] By 1633, the Spanish had established the missions of San Juan de Guacara, San Francisco de Chuaquin, and San Augustin de Urihica along the Suwannee to convert these western Timucua peoples.[12]

In the 18th century, Seminoles lived by the river.

The steamboat Madison operated on the river before the Civil War, and the sulphur springs at White Springs became popular as a health resort, with 14 hotels in operation in the late 19th century.


Children fishing on the Suwannnee River, 1957

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, "The Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge is unlike other refuges in that it was not established for the protection of a specific species, but in order to protect the high water quality of the historic Suwannee River."[13]

The Suwannee River Wilderness Trail is "a connected web of Florida State Parks, preserves and wilderness areas" that stretches more than 170 miles (274 kilometers), from Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park to the Gulf of Mexico.[14]

The Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge offers bird and wildlife observation,[15] wildlife photography, fishing, canoeing, hunting, and interpretive walks.[16] Facilities include foot trails, boardwalks, paddling trails, wildlife drives, archaeological sites, observation decks and fishing piers.[13]


Image Crossing Carries Location Opened Closed ID number Coordinates


Suwannee River Sill Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge 30.803778°N 82.417672°W / 30.803778; -82.417672
Norfolk Southern Railway
(Former Atlantic, Valdosta and Western Railway line)
Fargo 30.683964°N 82.559503°W / 30.683964; -82.559503
US 441 / SR 89 / SR 94 Edith to Fargo 1952 30.680902°N 82.559930°W / 30.680902; -82.559930


Turner Bridge (defunct) Northeast 38th Trail Cypress Creek Conservation Area late 1950s 30.524596°N 82.727892°W / 30.524596; -82.727892
CR 6 Bay Creek Conservation Area 1951 290027 30.507345°N 82.716491°W / 30.507345; -82.716491
Cone Bridge (defunct) Cone Bridge Road late 1960s 30.444933°N 82.671049°W / 30.444933; -82.671049
Godwin Bridge (defunct) Godwin Bridge Road late 1950s 30.350554°N 82.685593°W / 30.350554; -82.685593
Norfolk Southern Railway
(Former Georgia Southern and Florida Railway line)
White Springs 30.326129°N 82.738300°W / 30.326129; -82.738300
Ed Scott Bridge US 41 White Springs 1980 290083 30.325815°N 82.738476°W / 30.325815; -82.738476
J. Graham Black-Joseph W. McAlpin Bridge SR 136 White Springs 1954 290030 30.328156°N 82.759784°W / 30.328156; -82.759784
I-75 1962, 1997 30.346492°N 82.832868°W / 30.346492; -82.832868
Suwannee Springs Bridge (closed) Former US 129 Suwannee Springs 1931 1974 30.395418°N 82.935808°W / 30.395418; -82.935808
Old Suwanee Springs Bridge (defunct) 91st Drive Suwannee Springs 1930s 30.394699°N 82.934293°W / 30.394699; -82.934293
US 129 Suwannee Springs, Florida 1971 320019 30.398143°N 82.937750°W / 30.398143; -82.937750
Former Savannah, Florida & Western Railway line (ACL, SBD, CSXT) 186? 1988 30.409236°N 82.951814°W / 30.409236; -82.951814
Nobels Ferry Bridge CR 249 1984 320052 30.437103°N 83.091613°W / 30.437103; -83.091613
Old Nobels Ferry Bridge (defunct) 30.436936°N 83.094566°W / 30.436936; -83.094566
CSX Transportation
(Former Pensacola and Georgia Railroad line)
Ellaville 30.385055°N 83.172333°W / 30.385055; -83.172333
Hillman Bridge (closed) Former US 90 Ellaville 1926 1986 30.384711°N 83.174660°W / 30.384711; -83.174660
US 90 Ellaville 1986 350062 30.384719°N 83.175780°W / 30.384719; -83.175780
I-10 Suwannee River State Park 1971 30.357776°N 83.193314°W / 30.357776; -83.193314
CR 250 Dowling Park 1955 370018 30.244572°N 83.249696°W / 30.244572; -83.249696
Former Live Oak, Perry and Gulf Railroad line Dowling Park 1957 1977 30.243270°N 83.250864°W / 30.243270; -83.250864
Hal W. Adams Bridge SR 51 Luraville 1947 330009 30.099254°N 83.171785°W / 30.099254; -83.171785
Drew Bridge (closed) Former Suwannee & San Pedro Railroad line Mayo 1901 1920 30.101030°N 83.114136°W / 30.101030; -83.114136
Frank R. Norris Bridge US 27 Branford 1989 29.955173°N 82.929550°W / 29.955173; -82.929550
W. O. Cannon - D. W. McCollister Bridge CR 340 1965 310002 29.795707°N 82.919843°W / 29.795707; -82.919843
Nature Coast State Trail
(Former CSX Transportation line)
Old Town 29.608282°N 82.971233°W / 29.608282; -82.971233
Joe H. Anderson Sr. Bridge
US 19 / US 98 / US 27 Alt.
Fanning Springs 1963 300031, 300061 29.591323°N 82.937398°W / 29.591323; -82.937398

See also


  1. U.S. Geological Survey. National Hydrography Dataset high-resolution flowline data. The National Map, accessed April 18, 2011
  2. Brinton, Daniel; Brinton, Garrison Brinto Daniel Garrison (2016-10-10). Notes on the Floridian Peninsula. Applewood Books. ISBN 9781429022637.
  3. Milanich:12-13
  4. Johnson, Byron A. "THE SUWANNEE - SHAWNEE DEBATE" (PDF). Florida Anthropologist. 25 (2, pt. 1, June 1972): 67.
  5. Gatschet, Albert Samuel (1884). A Migration Legend of the Creek Indians. D.G. Brinton.
  6. Boyd, Stephen G. (1885). Indian Local Names with Their Interpretation. York, PA.: Published by the author.
  7. Gannett, Henry (1905). The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States. U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 294. sawani cherokee
  8. "The Suwannee River, Exploring Florida: A Social Studies Resource for Students and Teachers". College of Education, University of South Florida. 2002. Retrieved 2010-08-18.
  9. Bright, William (2004). Native American placenames of the United States. University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 466–467. ISBN 978-0-8061-3598-4.
  10. Martin, Jack B.; Mauldin, Margaret McKane (2004-12-01). A Dictionary of Creek/Muskogee. U of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0803283024.
  11. Worth vol. I, pp. 28–29.
  12. Milanich, Jerald T. (1996-08-14). Timucua. VNR AG. ISBN 9781557864888.
  13. "Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge: About the Refuge". U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Archived from the original on September 30, 2018. Retrieved 11 November 2022.
  14. Robin Draper. "Authentic Florida: 6 essentials of the Suwannee River". Florida Today. Archived from the original on April 27, 2016.
  15. The American Bird Conservancy Guide to the 500 Most Important Bird Areas in the: Key Sites for Birds and Birding in All 50 States. Random House Publishing Group. 13 April 2011. p. 415. ISBN 978-0-307-48138-2.
  16. Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2003. p. 9.


Further reading

  • Light, H.M., et al. (2002). Hydrology, vegetation, and soils of riverine and tidal floodplain forests of the lower Suwannee River, Florida, and potential impacts of flow reductions [U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1656A]. Denver: U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey.
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