MAGICAL WARM MINERAL SPRINGS
Healing at North Port’s historic spa, waters dating to Ice Age
ody scars can cause some self-consciousness. But Robert Bond enjoys showing what’s left of a chest scar from open-heart surgery. The healing power of a spring-fed sinkhole in Sarasota County helped erase traces of the surgeon’s work, he says. “I was bathing here a few days after my surgery,” Bond says, pointing to the dark green waters of Warm Mineral Springs in North Port, which is 50 miles north of Fort Myers. “We come here four to five times a week.”
Visitors such as Bond have enjoyed Warm Mineral Springs for generations, bathing in the 1.4-acre, geothermally heated sinkhole that produces a moderate to strong sulfur scent. The story is that Florida’s warm springs are what Juan Ponce de Leon believed would reverse time. Early natives used North Port’s freshwater springs centuries ago. Tourists started showing up in the 1950s. The buildings at Warm Mineral Springs were influenced by the Sarasota School of Architecture, which would include the Cyclorama to commemorate the Florida Quadricentennial in 1959.
Julia and Rafael Vitebsky today visit Warm Mineral Springs from New York, for instance. They are native Russians, where mineral waters are part of the Eastern European culture. “I see it helping with my arthritis,” Julia Vitebsky says.
Bill Goetz, a Sarasota County Historical Commissioner living in North Port who has studied the long history of Warm Mineral Springs, doesn’t buy the mythology of de Leon’s Fountain of
Youth, but he has heard testimonials attributed to the healing waters. “It is a historical significant site,” he says.
Waters of the 250-foot deep Warm Mineral Springs average 87 degrees. Underground water trapped since the last Ice Age is heated to 97 degrees. The source of the heat is up to one mile below. When underground caves opened about 15,000 years ago creating a sinkhole, the heated water mixed with cooling vents, dropping the surface to a relaxing temperature.
North Port purchased Warm Mineral Springs with Sarasota County in 2012. The city today owns the registered landmark. Goetz and others suggest it could be parceled off to developers, noting 1950s signage was removed this year, he says.
The historic significance of Warm Mineral Springs was discov- ered in the 1950s by Bill Royal. Diving the sinkhole, Royal recovered a human skull with intact tissue, which scientists linked to human activity in the eastern United States dating back more than 10,000 years, or 4,000 years more than older estimates. The story is that others quickly cleaned out remaining artifacts. There are still submerged caves beneath the surface at Warm Mineral Springs with more trapped history. Goetz says only 30 percent of it has been fully explored, which leaves lots of questions and mystery surrounding the so-called Fountain of Youth. “Warm Mineral Springs,” Goetz says, “tells us about humanity in a way that’s unavailable anywhere else.”
Warm Mineral Springs water is heated by the earth’s furnace and cooled to an average 87 degrees at the surface. There are still submerged caves beneath the surface at Warm Mineral Springs with more trapped history.
A non-resident day pass is $20 for adults, $15 for students 6-17. The mineral-rich sinkhole is nearly 250 feet deep and covers 1.4 acres.