Was There Actually a Fountain of Youth in Florida?

Ponce De Leon might have been right about healing waters here
Take a sip at St. Augustine’s Fountain of Youth
Was a Fountain of Youth what explorers were really looking for? Publicity photo

Tales of a source of healing water that promises eternal youth aren’t new to Spanish explorers. But Spain’s Ponce De Leon might have popularized the idea of a magic spring to be found somewhere in the New World. Was he right or wrong?

Ancient Greece’s Herodotus, sometimes called the “Father of History,” wrote about a tribe that lived in modern-day Africa around 500 B.C. known for their youthful appearance, attributed to a spring where they bathed.

“The water was so weak … that nothing would float in it, neither wood, nor any lighter substance, but all went to the bottom,” Herodotus wrote.

Historians believe this passage began the myth of the Fountain of Youth.

Who Else Sought the Fountain of Youth?

Ponce De Leon gets all the press, but he was just but one explorer in search of the source of eternal youthfulness.

Alexander the Great – inspired by the writings of Herodotus- was said to have looked for it but also came up empty. Stories about Prester John, the legendary Christian patriarch and king, said the figure ruled over such a source of water in the 12th century.

It’s De Leon though where the focus is on Florida. The Spanish explorer was thought to have searched Bimini, Puerto Rico and Florida for such a phenomenon.

In the spring of 1513, he landed on the coast of Florida near modern-day St. Augustine. He would return again in early 1521 and was attacked by local natives, eventually dying after being shot in the thigh with an arrow.

What Was Ponce De Leon Searching For?

Some historians argue De Leon was looking for gold – not a fountain of youth. Indeed, there appears to be a lack of references to any such fountain in the surviving documents of the day.

Another odd rumor is that De Leon was looking for a cure for impotence – not a fountain for immortality.

Florida would eventually become permanently established by Spain in 1565 with the founding of modern-day St. Augustine by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés.

Still, the legend of the fountain of the youth persisted and was carried on by American writers once Florida became part of the United States.

Where is the modern-day Fountain of Youth?

The 15-acre Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park is located in the former native village of Seloy. It was once the original colony founded by Menendez. The property would pass hands several times before eventually being marketed as a “fountain of youth” in 1900.

The guest book at the Fountain of Youth reportedly has signatures dating back to 1868. The water itself comes from a spring and contains more than 30 minerals – many of which are believed to be healthy (though not quite an elixir for immortality). Some guests turn their noses up, believing the water to have too much of a sulfur smell.

Could the interpretation of historic events and intents be garbled and distorted over the centuries? Was De Leon looking for healing waters, not an actual “fountain of youth?” If so, perhaps he actually succeeded.

St. Augustine isn’t the only city to claim a fountain of youth. St. Petersburg, on the west coast of Florida, has a fountain just outside downtown near the famed Salvador Dali Museum with such a name. The last time we checked on it, it was dry.

Likewise, residents of Coamo in Puerto Rico claim to have their own fountain of youth.

What Will You Find at St. Augustine’s Fountain of Youth?

The Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park is yours for the conquering – at the bargain price of $19.95 for adults. (Residents of St. Johns County, where the site is located, get in for just $9.95.)

The site is full of exhibits, including the Spring House where you can sip the very water that was in demand. Other options include a blacksmith exhibit, a navigators planetarium, a Timucuan native village, excavations and more.

And yes, you can also book the Fountain of Youth for weddings and other events. Menéndez and De Leon would be proud.

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