Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park

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The Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park is a privately-owned 15-acre park in St. Augustine, Florida.

The park is believed by some to be the location of the 1513 Florida landing of Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon, although no hard evidence exists to support this claim, according to the current owner of the park, John Fraser, in an interview with the Florida Union Times:

“There’s no absolute proof he landed here, except for one account and some circumstantial evidence.”

The park contains a well that some claim to be the freshwater source mentioned by Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas in his Historia general de los hechos de los castellanos en las Islas y Tierra Firme del mar Oceano which was reportedly sought by Ponce de Leon.

The park also contains the Timucuan burial site, which is a burial ground for Christian Native Americans dating back to the 16th century, the Menendez settlement from 1565 and numerous historical exhibits.

The list of current exhibits at the park include:

  • The Spring House: a 60-year old coquina building that houses the original spring that was recorded in a seventeenth century Spanish land grant
  • Navigators Planetarium: a planetarium offering hourly shows about how explorers used the stars to navigate during their expeditions
  • Discovery Globe: a large globe that portrays the routes took to and from the New World and the settlements they founded
  • Blacksmith Exhibit: an open-air working blacksmith shop where visitors learn how iron goods were made
  • Timucuan Burials: a historic Native-American burial ground of the Timucua people
  • Timucuan Village: a replica of the village of Seloy where the Timucua people lived
  • Nombre De Dios Mission: a replica of the Mission of Nombre de Dios on the exact site where the mission was first built in 1587
  • 1565 Menendez Settlement: the site of Pedro Menendez de Aviles settlement from 1565
  • Spanish Lookout: a replica of one of the many historic watchtowers of St. Augustine where guards would be on the lookout for ships on the horizon
  • Canon Firing: a live demonstration of the firing of a replica of one of the six-pounder cannons that Pedro Menedez de Aviles used to guard the settlement of St. Augustine.
  • Chalupa Boathouse: an exhibit where park staff are rebuilding a historically-accurate chulpa boat
  • Founders Riverwalk: a 600-foot-long walkway with views of the Matanzas Bay
  • Menendez State/Park: a pocket park constructed around a full-scale statue of Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, founder of St. Augustine.

The site first became a tourist attraction in 1868 when Henry Williams purchased the land from Paul Arnau for $2,500 and began allowing visitors to the freshwater spring on the property, which makes the park the oldest attraction in Florida.

Fountain of Youth postcard circa 1930
Fountain of Youth postcard circa 1930

In 1874, a cross made of coquina was dug up on the property by B.A. Pacetti, an employee of Williams. Williams had the cross appraised but was told it did not date back to 1513 so he had the cross re-buried.

In 1900, Williams sold the park to Dr. Luella Day MacConnell who marketed the property as the Fountain of Youth.

In 1909, MacConnell rediscovered the cross of coquina and a silver casque containing documents dating back to the time of Ponce de Leon’s landing in Florida and began a quest to officially verify that she owned the site of the Fountain of Youth.

After MacConnell died in a car accident on June 23, 1927, Walter B. Fraser purchased the park from Edward McConnell for $100,000 on August 15, 1927 and formally developed it into the popular Florida attraction that it is today. Fraser also later purchased the Oldest Orange Grove and the Oldest School House in St. Augustine.

In 1934, workers discovered a skeleton in the southern area of the park. The University of Florida and the Smithsonian Institute later excavated the site and discovered it contained a burial site of the Timucua tribe, which is the earliest known burial ground for Christianized Native Americans in the United States.

In 1951, more archaeological digs took place on the site which led to further research by the University of Florida.

Walter B. Fraser died in 1972 but the park passed down to his son, John R. Fraser, who put his own son, John Walter Fraser, in charge of management of the park that year. John Walter Fraser and his siblings still own and operate the park today..

In 1975, Dr. Kathy Deagan began excavating the park and later found the settlement site of Pedro Menendez de Aviles on the property, which was established in 1565, making it the first settlement in St. Augustine.

In 1985, a University of Florida team discovered a Spanish well filled with 16th century artifacts during an excavation and two years later they discover a series of long trenches that revealed foundations to some of the first Spanish structures in Florida.

In 1991, Gardner Gordan discovered Spanish buildings and a burial of a pet dog on the site dating back to prehistoric times, about 500 years before the Spanish arrived.

Between 2000-2011, more archaeological work took place at the site during which a second barrel well was discovered which contained a jar of olive oil from the 16th century, a candle holder and a scoop made from a conch.

The park was added to the National Register of Historical Places in 2016.

Planning a visit to the Fountain of Youth Park? Check out this article on Fountain of Youth Park discount tickets.

Sources:
Hitchner, Emelia. “Meet the Family Behind St. Augustine’s Fountain of Youth.” Florida Times Union – Jacksonville FL, 13 Mar. 2017, jacksonville.com/news/metro/2017-03-13/meet-family-behind-st-augustine-s-fountain-youth
“History.” Fountain of Youth Florida, fountainofyouthflorida.com/history/
“Timucauan Burials.” Fountain of Youth Florida, fountainofyouthflorida.com/exhibits/timucuan-burials/
“Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park.” NPS.gov, National Park Service, nps.gov/nr/feature/places/16000361.htm
“Menendez Fort and Camp.” Historical Archaeology, Florida Museum, floridamuseum.ufl.edu/histarch/research/st-augustine/menendez/
“Mr. John Fraser.” UF Historic St. Augustine, University of Florida, staugustine.ufl.edu/board/fraser.html