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HIGH SPRINGS – Get ready for some western style family fun. Every year on the fourth weekend of April, the High Springs Chamber of Commerce hosts the Pioneer Days festival to celebrate the town's colorful past. This year, the 44th Annual Pioneer Days Festival will be held in downtown historic High Springs on Saturday, April 24, 2021 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, April 25, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The event is held in and around James Paul Park, located behind City Hall in the heart of downtown.

The event is presented by the High Springs Chamber of Commerce. Admission and parking are free. There’s something for everyone this year including Kids Korral with many free activities, and pony rides for a fee, plus a bounce house that will be sanitized regularly throughout the day, face painting and more. Other attractions for the weekend-long event include over 60 crafters, artist and various vendors as well as seven food vendors featuring a wide variety of food and deserts.

High Springs is now known for its peaceful small-town charm with antique and art shops, eateries and recreation areas. People come for the unique nature that surrounds the town with the rivers and springs for swimming, boating and scuba diving. But the town’s beginnings had little to do with recreation.

One of the earliest settlements in the vicinity was established at Crockett Springs, located about three miles east of present-day High Springs. Settlers and ranchers moved into the area during the 1840s, but no town developed in the area before the latter part of the nineteenth century. In 1884, the Savannah, Florida, and Western Railroad was extended from Live Oak to Gainesville, passing through High Springs. A post office and train station were established in the town, which grew due to the rail lines. In the next few years, High Springs boomed as a result of the development of phosphate mining in the area as well. In 1892, the town was incorporated. During the next year, the Savannah, Florida, and Western Railroad completed its South Florida Division which connected High Springs with Port Tampa. By the beginning of the twentieth century, High Springs had become an important railroad center.

The railroad and mines brought a lot of workers into the area, along with vices, entertainment and services they required, along with general merchants, an opera house, hotels and boarding houses came the saloons, gambling halls and houses of prostitution. Early High Springs was a wild rough town with a bad reputation. The first sheriff was shot down in the street and a few years later another one was ambushed and wounded.

By the early 20th century, a large railroad terminal was located in the town. There was a huge roundhouse, machine shops, two large water towers, a two-story hospital and boarding houses that are all gone now. When the phosphate mines declined in the 1920s High Springs lost much of its population and businesses. By the 1960s the railroads had stopped running and High Springs reverted back to an agricultural and recreation based small town. It's a much quieter place than its wild past.

The annual Pioneer Days festival celebrates that rough and rowdy bygone time, while also holding a family friendly event. Free entertainment will include the popular historic cowboy gunfight reenactments from 12:30 p.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. on both days. The High Springs Museum, located by the police station will also be open for visitors. The historic St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church, which is celebrating its 125th Anniversary this year, will also be open for tours.

There are also live music concerts in James Paul Park featuring four bands on both Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, April 24, featured performers are Wild Blue Yonder at 10:30 a.m. performing a combination of classic rock songs and originals. At 2 p.m. on Saturday, it’s The Imposters, which include a who’s who of Gainesville’s finest musicians. Some form of the band has existed for 37 years and the current lineup is comprised of Brad Bangstad, keyboard; Ron Thomas, vocals and bass; Don David, vocals and guitar; Mike Boulware, vocals and guitar; Rob Rothschild, drums; and Michael Derry on vocals and guitar. The Imposters will be playing a combination of classic rock and acoustic music from the 1960s -70s.

On Sunday, Sides-Morris Band takes the stage at 10 a.m. featuring a semi-acoustic vocal duo comprised of local favorite Barry Sides and recent Nashville transplant Gary Morse. The duo’s playlist encompasses The Byrds, Bob Dylan, Howlin’ Wolf, Neil Young and Tom Petty, in addition to roots country and Americana.

Bringing the weekend festival to a close, local favorites Fast Lane will play at 1 p.m. with a unique combination of blues, rock & roll, funk, and soul.

For more information visit the Chamber website at www.highsprings.com, or call the chamber at 386-454-3120.

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