The Pioneer Spas: Safety Harbor Resort and Spa
Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto thought he’d found the Fountain of Youth at this site’s natural mineral springs in the 1500s. The water of is one of the many features that brings us back to this Tampa Bay spa resort, which boasts a sprawling 50,000 feet dedicated to spa and fitness.
Upon his arrival in 1539 to the shores of what’s now dubbed Old Tampa Bay, Hernando de Soto declared his discovery: natural springs that could bring him eternal youth. Indeed, at a time when people had much shorter life expectancy, de Soto lived to be 96.
And to the guests of Safety Harbor Resort and Spa, the restorative properties of these springs are no secret either; they continue to flock to the hotel to “take the waters.”
Tapping Into History
Our mineral waters “make us a spa in the true sense of the word spa,” says Nancy Thielman, manager/spa operations at Safety Harbor. “The European tradition was always taking the waters. That’s an element we’re very proud of, being on the [shores of Tampa Bay]…and we do believe in the healing properties of the water.”
Though expansions have been made and structures modified over the years, parts of the original buildings at Safety Harbor are intact, and the spa remains at its original location, where the Indian shell mound builders made their home nearly 2,000 years ago, proceeded by the Tocobaga Indians and the Seminoles. These early dwellers were the ones that first introduced the idea that the mineral springs contained therapeutic attributes. (The Safety Harbor area has been christened, among other names, “Green Springs,” derived from folklore about crippled farmer Jesse Green, who took the waters for a year and ended up throwing “away his crutches and resume plowing his field”; today, water from the mineral springs is used in the resort’s spa services, drinking water and swimming pools.)
In the early 1920s, during the “Great Florida Land Bloom,” Captain James F. Tucker purchased the mineral springs and the surrounding, unspoiled lands around it. He and his wife formed the Espiritu Santo Springs Corporation, along with The Safety Harbor Sanatorium and the Espiritu Santo Springs Hotel. The property switched hands twice more, and in 1945, Dr. Salem H. Baranoff bought the springs and sanatorium and created a destination health spa in the truest sense.
“I think at one point we were definitely just a destination spa,” Thielman says. “Guests came as couples, families and more, but over the years as those families kind of dwindled and stopped, we became more of a multifunctional resort.” Facilities such as a 30,000-square-foot conference center have added to the appeal of being an all-encompassing property.
In the beginning, guests of Safety Harbor had a strict regimen, Thielman says. “This is what you did. This is what you ate. Every day when they came [to the spa] they had their massage, did their 30-minute fitness class. It was more structured.” Nowadays, if guests want to experience fitness, there’s an extensive schedule; if they want to partake in the water therapies, that’s available as well. “We have so much to choose from, they can select how their day unfolds,” she says.
Past Traditions Revisited
In the future, Thielman envisions the spa will tap into the roots that made the destination so successful in the first place: its mineral waters. “I do envision getting back to the water. Getting back to the days when it was a wellness destination and not just a place to go and do something self-indulgent,” Thielman says. “Do something that not only is going to help you look better, but make you feel better all the way around, all the facets of a person—spiritually, physically, and emotionally.”
Our 25th Anniversary Celebration continues with more Spa Nostalgia Slideshows >