WEEKI WACHEE — Weeki Wachee Springs, known as the city of live mermaids, will be reviewed by a state panel next month for possible inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.
County officials have not decided whether to express their support for that idea, but their approval isn’t required. When news of the application surfaced at the Hernando County Commission meeting Tuesday, commissioners wanted to know more about what the designation would mean.
County Administrator Jeff Rogers said the designation would cement the site’s status as a historic place, and it also "probably opens up avenues for funding.''
Commissioner John Allocco said he wanted more information, including who asked for the listing, which was not immediately known.
"It may be a great idea,'' he said. "It may bring in more tourism, but I don’t know if it can handle more tourism.''
The popular roadside attraction hosted its first mermaid show on Oct. 13, 1947, years before the age of Disney and the high-tech theme parks of today. Weeki Wachee has long been the premier tourism draw to Hernando County.
In 2008, Weeki Wachee Springs became a state park, and its first management plan anticipated that the historical significance of the site should be memorialized in some way. State agencies are required to inventory and protect both historical resources and natural resources, including the first-magnitude spring that is the centerpiece of the park and the source of the Weeki Wachee River.
"The remaining buildings and other remnants of the former attraction are an important representation of tourism development in Florida during the mid-Twentieth Century,'' the management plan notes. "The Mermaid Theater with its dramatic underwater views of the spring basin is of particular architectural significance.''
The plan notes that uplands around the spring "were also inhabited by Florida’s prehistoric and historic Native Americans as well as early Florida settlers. Archaeological sites at Weeki Wachee have provided evidence of contact between early Spanish explorers and Florida’s indigenous people.''
In addition to the Mermaid Theater, 11 other historic structures have been inventoried at the attraction. They are primarily decorative or support structures, and the list includes the iconic Adagio Statue of two mermaids, which adorns the front entrance to the park.
Cultural resources at Weeki Wachee include six archaeological sites, including a sand burial mound that produced artifacts that date from 900 to 1650. Pottery was found during past excavations, and Spanish glass beads interred with burials of Native Americans were an indication of contact with Europeans, according to the park management plan.
Park history has always been a part of the programs that visitors enjoy when they come to Weeki Wachee, along with its more recent water slides and other attractions.
To be considered for listing in the Historic Register, sites must meet specific criteria.
"Districts, sites, buildings, structures and objects may be considered to have significance in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, and/or culture if they possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association,'' according to the criteria listed for consideration of inclusion in the National Register.
Support for the submission can be sent to: Ruben Acosta, Survey and Registration Supervisor, Division of Historical Resources, R.A. Gray Building, 500 South Bronough Street, Tallahassee, FL 32399 or to www.flheritage.com.
Comments must be received before November 7.