Silver Springs once had direct, nearby competitors, one of which distinguished itself with its “Scenic Submarine,” “America’s Most Unusual Boat Ride.”  Until 1974, Rainbow Springs competed for the same tourists as its more famous counterpart thirty miles east in the same county in north-central Florida, as detailed in Tim Hollis’s Glass Bottom Boats and Mermaid Tails: Florida’s Tourist Springs. Originally called Blue Spring, Rainbow Springs got its name in the 1930s as part of an effort to attract tourists. The destination grew into the postwar years as the attraction added glass-bottomed boats and even submarine rides and staged underwater tableaux in much the same fashion as Silver Springs, historian Tom Berson’s “stop” on the “itinerary” of American Tourism: Constructing a National Tradition, due out on June 15.

As reported in yesterday’s Gainesville Sun, Rainbow Springs is Florida’s largest spring by volume, having surpassed famed Silver Springs, but both springs have decreased their flow considerably over the past decade as over-pumping and droughts have overwhelmed their output. Although the auto tourist market could only support the most effectively marketed attractions around these springs after Interstate highways whisked motorists to the tourist mecca of Orlando, Florida’s crystalline springs remain a national natural treasure and continue to provide some of the best places to experience “old Florida.”

Entrance to Rainbow Springs, Florida, ca. 1950s. Photo by Bonnie Jean Allen. N041699. State Archives of Florida.

Man holding model of submarine boat, ca. 1950s. Photo by Bonnie Jean Allen. N041718. State Archives of Florida.

Bahama Belles perform at Rainbow Springs, 1951. Department of Commerce Collection. C014778. State Archives of Florida.

Visitors look out the windows of the submarine boat, 1956. Department of Commerce Collection. C023646. State Archives of Florida.

Underwater Christmas at Rainbow Springs, 1953. Photo by Harvey E. Slade. Slade Collection. SL3187H. State Archives of Florida.