As visitors enter Suwannee River State Park, their eyes are immediately drawn to a break in the far tree line that holds the promise of a fine view. They saunter across 50 yards of gently sloped lawn shaded by a high canopy of widely-spaced live oaks to the top of a high limestone bluff overlooking Suwannee River. Until recently, they would also find a historic marker under one of the nearby oaks. It’s metal face, darkened and weathered by the elements, gave the appearance of being ancient and imbued its message with a sense of ancient wisdom. In bold, raised letters it said, “Suwannee is a Creek Indian name meaning Place of Echoes.” The visitors would read the sign and then look down the steep-sided canyon embracing the molasses-brown river below and marvel at how perfectly the name fit. It felt right. But it wasn’t. Historians have concluded that "Suwannee" was derived from the name of a Spanish mission, San Juan de Guacara.
First located at Baptizing Springs around 1612, San Juan was later moved to Charles Spring after a disastrous rebellion by the Timucua natives in 1656. This new location put it next to the primary crossing of Suwannee River and made it one of the most important missions on both the river and the Mission Trail. Soon, the Spanish were referring to the river as the river of San Juan. The name probably would have stuck if there wasn’t already a river with that name; the river that still carries the Anglicized version of that name, St. John’s. To distinguish this smaller San Juan River from its big sister, they called it the Little San Juan, or “San Juanee.” With time, the name morphed into “Suwannee.”