Me and school never got along. I was an average student finding classrooms a terrible place to learn about the world. If you ask me about most of my classes, I wouldn’t be able to tell you anything memorable. All my true learning came from outside the school. Although, the one thing I did remember learning and have always had a slight obsession about was the Ponce de Leon Fountain of Youth. With time all I remembered was just the explorer’s name and that he discovered the Fountain of Youth. However, where it was located totally escaped me.
When I started my search for our visit to St. Augustine Florida I couldn’t believe that this is also the very same area where the Fountain of Youth was discovered. This is the one place I had secretly wanted to visit since I was a teenager, and that day had finally come.
What You’ll Learn on Your Visit to St. Augustine Fountain of Youth
The park which is now a Florida Historic Landmark, is a living museum with live re-enactments and exhibits that transform you back to the time of the Ponce De Leon and the first settlement of St. Augustine, which happened on these grounds.
But First Let’s Have Some Fun Learning History
History of the Park
The park is on the original 1565 Site of St. Augustine.
There is proof that this archaeological park has been used as a tourist attraction since 1860’s. But the attraction that we know now was created by Luella Day McConnell in 1904.
Supposedly Luella Day McConnell purchased the Park using diamonds, so she became known as “Diamond Lil”.
The first archaeological digs at the Fountain of Youth were in 1934 performed by the Smithsonian Institution.
The digs produced a large number Christianized Timucua burials. These burials eventually pointed to the Park as the location of the first Christian Mission in the United States.
Decades of digging confirmed that the park is the exact location Pedro Menendez de Aviles’ 1565 settlement of St. Augustine.
The park grew from that point and now features both real historic sites as well as some classic tourist spots that include the spring and a giant illuminated globe used to detail the voyages of discovery to the New World.
There is an enclosed spring within the park. It is believed that it is the Fountain of Youth that Ponce de Leon was looking for.
Ponce de Leon
Juan Ponce de León was a Spanish explorer, and the first to explore Florida.
He became an experienced warrior by the age of 18.
In 1493 he became part of the crew for Christopher Columbus’s second voyage.
By the early 1500’s he had already been appointed as frontier governor of the Higüey province in La Española.
In 1509 he was also appointed Governor of San Juan Bautista (Puerto Rico)
Rumors of undiscovered islands to the northwest of Hispaniola had reached Spain by 1511. By february 1513 Ponce de Leon was on his way.
One Month later they found land, because of its colorful, blooming landscape it was called La Florida which means ‘flowers blooming’.
It is believed that the expedition landed in St. Augustine.
In 1514 he became the first conqueror to be knighted and given a coat of arms.
In 1521 Ponce de León organized a colonizing expedition on two ships. It consisted of some 200 men, including priests, farmers and artisans, 50 horses and other domestic animals, and farming implements
There was an attack by the natives where he was injured. He died from it.
Fountain of Youth
The Fountain of Youth is a legendary spring that supposedly restores the youth. It is a spring that has a lot of minerals in it giving it a strong odor and flavor.
The legend became particularly prominent in the 16th century. It was attached to Ponce de León. It is said that he discovered Florida while searching for the Fountain of Youth.
There is a possibility that the Fountain of Youth was an allegory for the Bahamian Love Vine. It has been speculated that Ponce de Leon mistook the natives’ “vid” (vine) for “vida” (life) – transforming their “fountain vine” into an imagined “fountain of life”.
- The Tequesta, natives that lived on these lands, lived well into their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s while the average Spaniard’s life span was no more than early 40’s. When Ponce De Leon arrived and saw this he demanded to know why and the natives said it was their natural springs. And that’s how the legend and myth also could have evolved.
Natives found by Ponce de Leon
The Calusa, like their predecessors, were hunter-gatherers who existed on small game, fish, turtles, alligators, shellfish, and various plants.
Apart from the cacique, other strata included priests and warriors.
The Calusa were the largest and most powerful tribe in South Florida by the time Ponce de Leon arrived.
They were able to maintain relations with Spaniards and to resist their colonization attempts.
South Florida tribes often canoed through the Everglades, but rarely lived in them. Canoe trips to Cuba were also common.
The Tequesta were Second in power and number to the Calusa in South Florida.
Sailors from Spain feared them.
This culture was much more aggressive with Spaniards, but maintained friendly relations with them for a while.
Like the Calusa, the Tequesta hunted small game. They did not practice cultivated agriculture.
This is one of the most hands on, interactive parks we have ever visited. The actors are not only entertaining, but extremely knowledgeable about the history of the park, St. Augustine and much more.
They really get the kids involved and, in my opinion, this this is the only way anyone really learns. Doing it themselves.
And every hour on the hour, starting at 11 am, the canon that used to go off to stray off enemies and warn pirates to stay away still goes off. The ceremony is entertaining, educational and loud. But oh-so fun!
However, re-enactments are not the only things going on. The park has several shows during the day at different theaters that are on the property. When you arrive, get the schedule. I highly recommend visiting at least one show, they are short, well done and gives you a better idea of the place you are visiting.
Information on Visiting St. Augustine Fountain of Youth
Address: 11 Magnolia Avenue St. Augustine, FL USA
Phone: 904 829 3168
Hours: 9am – 6pm Daily
Adults $12.00 Each
Seniors (60+) $11.00 Each
Children (6-12) $8.00 Each
Children 5 and Under FREE