Beeman’s Palm Springs Ginger Ale

Lost in time, in the Seminole County woods, is an unmarked spring with an interesting past.

Ginger Ale Spring in Longwood, Florida

Every day thousands of cars zoom past on nearby Markham Woods Road. Its bubbling brook gurgles only a few hundred feet from Interstate 4 and State Road 434. Hiding off in the woods is a tiny boiling spring. Although unknown even to most lifelong residents, for decades, it has been called “Ginger Ale Spring” by insiders.

Local legend vaguely claims that it was once harvested for ginger ale bottling but lacks any supporting details. Some suggest that it might all just be an urban legend. It’s not. We’ll pop the top on this local history mystery, but first… we have to go back to the beginning.

It is 1890. Doctor Edward E. Beeman sits in his lab wondering what he can do to boost sales of his pepsin powder. Nine years prior, the Cleveland druggist discovered that peptides, a naturally-forming stomach enzyme, aided digestion and helped cure an upset stomach.

He learned he could extract the substance from pigs and turn it into powder. The product began to sell at drug stores and hit its stride in 1885, under his startup: the Beeman Chemical Company. Sales were okay, but not out of this world.

Meanwhile, a new gum craze was beginning to catch across the United States. Various materials were used then, but the variety with the most wind in its sales (pun intended) contained a plant material called “chicle,” found in the Yucatan. The only problem was that most gums on the market didn’t taste too great and lost their flavor after a very short time. They also didn’t serve any greater purpose beyond just exercising your jawbone.

At the suggestion of one of his assistants, Dr. Beeman experimented with mixing his pepsin (which had a decent yet unique flavor) with chicle. The results were an unmitigated success and Beeman Chemical Company’s revenues skyrocketed. In no time, it became a nationally recognized brand and is still an iconic product.

Dr. Beeman’s son, Harry, moved his family to Orlando in 1887. His wife Mary and their 12-year-old son Lester were eager companions to the adventure of frontier Florida. Their second son, Edwin, was born there in 1892.

Harry had done very well since arriving in Florida. He invested in some real estate, citrus, and ranching. But their wealth and status escalated even more quickly when his dad’s gum company went through the roof!

In 1893 the family purchased the San Juan Hotel in downtown Orlando. It was a three-story, wood-framed building with a dome on top. The property proved a nice and profitable business, despite the coming woes Florida’s agriculture would weather that decade.

In 1899 the doctor rang the register. He sold the business to a new gum conglomerate called American Chicle. They were multi-millionaires at a time when a million dollars was a lot grander than it is today! The Orlando area Beemans were well-liked and upstanding socialites. Their renown and influence (and portfolio) grew with each passing year.

Lester Beeman’s sprawling estate on Lake Sue in Winter Park

Starting in 1901 and for the next two decades, Harry invested in round-after-round of extensive renovations to the San Juan. The hotel grounds expanded both outward and upward.

Over the years, its wood was overlaid with a steel frame and the hotel went from three, to five, to eight stories tall. It was fashioned with a veranda and consumed an entire commercial block. It housed a post office, laundromat, multiple restaurants, a barber shop, and more. It was a swanky place!

The oldest son, Lester, came of age in Florida and went into real estate himself. One of his investments in the mid-1910s (owning it at least by 1916) was a recreational area 20 minutes north of town called Palm Spring.

1890 map showing the town of Palm Spring

This hamlet, to the west of Longwood, had once been a promising settlement. It was first called Altamont — without an “e” — and later Palm Spring(s) — sometimes plural and sometimes not.

Complete with not-one-but-two railroads, a post office, and several stores, it had a population of over 300 by 1890. However, all of that changed after the freeze of 1895. After that, it mostly became a ghost town for decades to come.

However, while it failed as a community, the five springs along the Little Wekiva River had been prized natural treasures since the Native Americans called the area home. It was coveted for recreation and for the supposed healing powers of its waters.

After visiting the place, Beeman immediately saw its potential and scooped it up! His parcel was east of the Little Wekiva and included the prominent Palm Spring but also a lesser spring — which we’ll get to later.

Note: Hoosier/Sanlando, Shepherd/Starbuck, and Pegasus Springs were not a part of the Beeman property.

Palm Springs was marketed as a weekend getaway. It was a go-to spot for folks throughout Central Florida for two decades. The cool waters of its rectangular pool hosted company outings, picnics, parties, and just friends goofing off! Lester Beeman added amenities such as a bathhouse, slide, and high dive.

Now for the payoff… what is this about ginger ale???

Things were going pretty well for the Beeman family. They had met success in pretty much anything they tried. The father, Harry Beeman, was president of the Orlando Bank & Trust Company. Lester and his father owned massive neighboring estates in Winter Park. And in 1923, they signed a deal to lease out the San Juan Hotel for $1.5 million, freeing them up from that management responsibility and opening up other opportunities.

So on February 9, 1924, the Beeman Investment Company announced in the Orlando Sentinel that they were going into the bottling business. Owners at the next door Hoosier Spring (later Sanlando Spring) experimented with selling small quantities of their water to local druggists a decade ago. Still, the Beemans were sure they could do it better.

North of the large recreational spring, “Palm Spring” proper, there was a smaller spring on their property. There they built a beverage manufacturing facility. The Sentinel declared, “a modern bottling plant has been erected at the spring… is already in operation.”

The headquarters of the beverage company was set up in downtown Orlando at Pine Street and Court Avenue. Harry Beeman and partner E. H. Sutherland promised: “its sale will not be confined to Orlando but a national advertising campaign will make it known throughout the country.”

But their claims did not stop there. “In a short time it is expected it will be in as great demand… as are coca-cola,” the announcement boasted and continued, “… it will shortly be as famous as Beeman’s Pepsin Gum.”

A longer-term roadmap was planned for additional beverages, but for the company’s rookie season, they stuck with two products: Beeman’s Palm Spring Water and Beeman’s Palm Spring Ginger Ale.

Despite the exaggerated braggadocio (arguably not unlike the similar claims on any and all Florida real estate at the time, but I digress), they followed through with promptly bringing the product to market and starting an advertising campaign.

By March, they were distributing their spring water line. And on May 25, 1924, they announced their ginger ale product was ready for mass consumption. The product was described as “a mild dry Ginger Ale, with that Champagne color, pep, and real ginger taste” with “a magic blend of Palm Springs water, pure fruit color, pure sugar syrup, and ginger.”

The advertising campaign was in full swing for the next six months, albeit with a limited market. There are no signs the product ever received distribution or marketing outside of the modern “I-4 corridor” between Orlando and Tampa.

The water and ginger ale products were carried by most local druggists and independent grocers, as well as emerging chains such as United Markets grocery, with four stores in Orlando alone and 34 total (all in the Tampa Bay and Orlando area).

Palm Spring Ginger Ale was sold for between 15–19 cents per pint. The price was competitive with other national brands, but it simply did not catch on as they had hoped. Less than a year later, operation at the plant had completely stopped. No advertisements for the product appeared in newspapers after December 1924.

After the non-coca-cola-like reception for the beverage, Lester Beeman sold his Palm Springs property in March 1925 to Frank Snyde in what turned out to be the height of the Florida Land Boom. The Beeman family turned their attention to other ventures, such as selling off some Winter Park property — they called the new subdivision Beeman Park.

However, the next few years were rough for Lester. His brother, Edwin (who was adored by basically all of Orlando), died unexpectedly at 34 years old from a botched appendectomy. Then after a long illness, Harry died in March 1929. Those same years saw the Great Florida Land Boom rollercoaster from boon to bust.

After his father’s death, Beeman decided he still loved Palm Springs and repurchased it — probably at a significant discount. He re-opened and updated the popular attraction. Soon thereafter, though, rival Sanlando Springs Tropical Park opened up around the corner and began to outshine it.

By 1935 he sold the spring again — either that or creditors did it for him. Less than a year earlier, Lester’s 40-acre Winter Park mansion (built in 1910) was purchased by H. A. Stein for $21,000.

Today “Ginger Ale Spring” sits on heavily-wooded county-owned property off of Markham Woods Road. Down a narrow windy path, stepping over a creek, and being careful not to trip on roots… We found it waiting for us. There is no historical marker. No parking lot. Nor arrows. But no “keep out” signs either.

All that remains of the former bottling plant is a rounded cement tub that once collected the water for production. An opening in the cylinder creates a continuous waterfall from the overflowing sulfur spring.

Nine smaller boils seep up from the sandy bottom below the waterfall. Another spout ingresses from a side wall. A colony of small fish populates the round pool of the main spring, with its white sandy bottom visible through a thin algae layer.

It’s evident that a few locals know of its existence. They leave trinkets and religious objects there. Perhaps some still believe in the spiritual healing powers, as people have for centuries. While it’s fortunately not overly littered with trash, discarded shampoo bottles betray visitors who have literally bathed there. A teenage population is apparently patrons as well; away from prying eyes we see signs of underage partaking of another type of “ale.”

But mostly, Beeman’s Ginger Ale Spring sits undisturbed and unnoticed. Oblivious to the hustle and bustle. Ignoring the civilization and subdivisions around it. Still frozen in time. A token piece of old Florida within the Seminole County suburban sprawl.

Let’s keep it that way. If you venture into those woods, please leave it how you found it. And oh… look out for bears!

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