Cabinet votes to buy springs that were saved by love affair
Florida's Cabinet voted Wednesday to acquire 407-acre Blue Springs Park in Gilchrist County, a jewel of a spring that's been privately owned since 1958 -- thanks to a long-ago love affair involving a St. Petersburg business mogul and his faithful assistant.
The Cabinet approved the purchase for $5.25 million, which Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said was 10 percent below the owners' asking price, according to WUFT. The parcel includes a set of six springs and a mile of land along the Santa Fe River.
In the 1950s, Blue Springs belonged to a St. Petersburg business mogul named Ed C. Wright, who owned some 20,000 acres in 20 counties. Wright, a short and solid man, had made a fortune investing in municipal bonds, railroad stock and radio stations. One newspaper story described his profession as "capitalist." He preferred "speculator." In Pinellas County alone, Wright owned the north end of Sand Key, St. Petersburg's Gateway area, half of Weedon Island and the Belleview Biltmore Hotel.
Wright's longtime secretary was a petite, reserved woman named Ruth Kirby, whom he had hired in 1931 when she was just a teenager. Kirby's duties included listening in on all those calls and taking notes. Soon she was trading bonds and buying land too, and she proved to be as savvy an investor as her boss.
When a stumble on some stairs in 1969 left Wright with a serious head injury, Kirby kept a vigil at his bedside for 21 days. When he died, unmarried and childless at age 77, his will named her executor of his $50 million estate. became one of the most powerful wheeler-dealers in the state, negotiating with U.S. Steel over land for condos on Sand Key and flying to Tallahassee to pressure the governor into buying Weedon Island.
How did she wind up controlling such a huge estate? The clue lay in Gilchrist Blue Spring. In 1958, according to Kirby's family,, Wright had given Kirby the deed to Blue Springs and all the undeveloped land around it as an engagement gift, from the groom-to-be to his fiancee -- yet the couple somehow never made it down the aisle. Every time they set a date, Wright got sick or had some other excuse, the family said.
Since Kirby's death in 1989 at age 78, her family has labored to keep the springs looking the way Great-Aunt Ruth wanted them to, niece Kim Davis told the Times/Herald in 2013, when they put the place up for sale..
Thanks to those efforts, nature photographer John Moran said then, as Florida's other springs have declined, "the water here still has the power to shock you with its stunning hues of electric blue."