In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
Everyone in the United States knows that. Everyone here also knows about the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. But how many know of Ponce?
Ponce de Leon joined Columbus’ crew as a “Gentleman Volunteer” in 1493 on Columbus’ second trip to the new world.
After landing on Hispaniola, Ponce rose through the ranks until he became Governor of the territory.
A huge political battle between him and Columbus’ son, Diego Colon became the driving force for Ponce to seek another adventure. With the promise of exclusive rights of discovery for the next three years along with having the title of Governor of all land discovered for life, with a set percentage of gold, and resources kept of said discovered land, Ponce went out and paid for three ships and hired hands out of his bank account.
On April 2, 1513 Ponce de Leon landed on what he believed to be an island and called it La Florida.
What isn’t said in any official report is Ponce’s search for the Fountain of Youth. The reports of his supposed search start only after he dies. From 1535 to 1615 four stories appear in succession. One written by a member of his crew from the expedition.
With so much folklore and rumor, the question persists, “Did Ponce de Leon look for the fountain of youth?”
So with the famous “Fountain of Youth” right across the street behind my hotel in St. Augustine; how could I not go?
The first thing my wife and I couldn’t help but notice is the massive wall surrounding the place. While not tall by any standards, its sturdy being made up of shells and cement. It has a character to it that I’ve never seen before.
On and off drizzle along with our early arrival rewarded us with personal tours of both the planetarium and the discovery globe. We also had an exclusive tour of the fountain area itself, but walked right through it without knowing what it was. One of the people working there was busy filling small plastic cups with the fabled water.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Once inside, my wife and I were amazed by the beauty of the grounds. Park like in its splendor, the landscape rivals that of Bok Towers and Selby Gardens. In some ways, it surpasses them.
The local wildlife was interesting too. Besides the usual ground squirrels and ducks, The Fountain of Youth offers something you don’t see every day. Free range peacocks.
Totally comfortable with tourists, these magnificent birds walk around as if we’re part of their land. Wonderfully behaved these birds don’t chase or harass us even when we get close enough to reach out and touch them. (No. I didn’t try that. Getting bit by a peacock is not on my bucket list.)
Very soon, we were greeted by the workers and asked if we would like to see the globe and planetarium.
We had the places to ourselves. It was wonderful.
We first headed to the Globe building where we were informed that the globe depicting the travels to America was two stories high.
The planetarium showed us what the stars looked like when Columbus and Ponce sailed here in 1493. It was wonderful.
There is nothing better than having the place to yourself knowing you will not be disturbing anyone by taking pictures.
Exiting the main room of the planetarium to the hall, my wife and I ran into the first group of people we saw on the grounds besides the workers. It was good to see other people fascinated by the history of the place.
Both sides of the hall had period tools used for navigating the waters from Europe to America.
We went from the planetarium building back to the Spring House.
The Spring House life-sized dioramas of both the Timucua and the Spaniards.
Looking around we also spotted a little well with a table set to the side full of plastic cups of water. Was this the fabled fountain of youth?
Yep! The sign said so. (So that’s what the lady was doing when we walked by!)
My wife and I made a toast to our good health and then drank the fluid of life. I have to say it wasn’t bad. Southwest Florida well water has a horrible sulfur smell and taste to it, but this water was cool and refreshing. Impressive.
What I found more impressive is that the Timucua are still here. Their existence was almost erased by the diseases the Europeans brought with them, but the Timucua proved to be a sturdy lot. They survived small pox and the measles and, along the way, they converted to Christianity. In fact, they are the first Native Americans to convert. Some of the Timucua show their native works on the grounds for us to see.
After our drink, my wife and I decided to stroll the grounds again. There’s lots to discover. Archeologists have dug these grounds many times and are still finding new artifacts. They have an area roped off as we talk for their next dig.
At one point in time, the archeologists found the remains of the original Timucua who converted to Christianity. They dug up the remains and put them on display. Luckily better heads prevailed and a proper building was created where the people were reburied with ceremonies in both Christian and Timucua to honor them. You can go inside the building and see the burial ground, but I took no pictures there. They’ve been through enough. Let them rest.
Back outside, we saw foundation blocks of early buildings and settlements along with a new pier inviting people out into the water.
When you go out there, the first thing that comes to mind is, “I hope Ponce landed on the other side.”
The ground at low tide is a muddy mess. I can just imagine the small, heavy row boats getting stuck in the quagmire. I also wonder how many of them lost their boots to the mud if they went this way. The other side surely had to be easier.
On our way back, we strolled over to the Timucua display. It had started to drizzle again, but we didn’t mind. We looked at the craftsmanship of the display and studied the thatching of the roof of the pole building to see exactly how it was done.
Then the sky opened up.
We dove under the small building to escape the downpour. It was a typical heavy Florida rain, but not a single drop penetrated that roof. The ground below us was bone dry.
After a bit the rain let up and we concluded our tour by checking out the cannons and anchors set up for display along the grounds. With them very large cooking pots from old sailing vessels, various native plants, and a display of the building materials used during the construction of the park and city around it.
It was amazing.
I was glad we visited. The history of the place is so much better than the legend of the fabled water.
Besides, ol Ponce ruined the Fountain of Youth anyway. See by getting himself killed he changed the powers of the water. Instead of keeping you physically young, the fountain now only keeps you young at heart.
That’s good enough for me.