The Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park is a historical attraction in St. Augustine that features a well that the owners claim is the famous spring reportedly sought by Ponce de Leon in the 17th century.
The well is rumored to be the freshwater spring mentioned by Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas in his book, 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, although the well wasn’t even dug until 1875 and there is no evidence Ponce de Leon ever visited the area or was even seeking any Fountain of Youth to begin with.
The park is actually home to four fresh water artesian springs, but the well is not one of them as it is a man-made well and not a naturally occurring spring. The well does tap into the same underground water source as the springs though.
The four springs in the park are historically important because they were a water source for the Timucua people of Seloy, a Native-American village that existed on the grounds of the park for over 3,000 years, and the Menendez colony which was established there in 1565.
These springs are located in the western and northern areas of the park, and are used to provide water for fountains, a duck pond, landscape irrigation and archaeological water screening (Deagan 27.)
In 1868, a florist named Henry H. Williams bought the property and used it for the commercial cultivation of fruits and flowers, which he called the Paradise Grove and Rose Garden.
At the time, the site was already something of a tourist attraction due to the coquina ruins on the property that were believed to be the ruins of the first church at the Mission Nombre de Dios.
Even at this time the springs on the property were already associated with the legend of the Fountain of Youth. At first, Williams discouraged the visitors who came to drink from the springs in his grove and even built a fence around the property to keep them out but eventually opened up the site and the springs as a tourist attraction in 1874.
In 1875, Williams hired Philip Gomez and Philip Capo to dig a well on the property to access the groundwater underneath. This well is what is now touted as the famous historic spring at the Fountain of Youth attraction, according to a statement made in 1934 by Gomez’s son, Gabriel Peter Gomez, which was later published in the book Fact Versus Fiction for the New Historical St. Augustine in 1937:
“When I was a small boy my father was employed by Henry H. Williams, the owner of a large tract of land north of the City of St. Augustine, to build up the side walls of a surface well. The well was of a type of which there were many in St. Augustine. This well built by my father is the same well that is now known as the Fountain of Youth” (Reynolds 29.)
In 1904, a woman named Luella Day McConnell bought the property and later developed it into the Fountain of Youth Attraction it is today. At first, she called the property Neptune Park and opened a small museum on the property featuring historical artifacts.
Then in 1909, McConnell changed the focus of the property to the well and began advertising it as the Fountain of Youth, charging admission to the attraction and selling post cards and water from the well.
After McConnell died in 1927, a man named Walter B. Fraser purchased the park from Edward McConnell on August 15, 1927 and continued to operate it as a tourist attraction.
In 1935, Fraser petitioned the United States Department of the Interior to declare the site a National Monument to Ponce de Leon but the idea was rejected because the site is located on private property, not federal land, and there is no evidence that Ponce de Leon visited the site.
Furthermore, National Parks Service official Roger Toll noted in his 1935 report on the matter that the Fountain of Youth “seems to be a well, not a spring, and to be without authenticated historical importance” (Ballou 16.)
In the early 1960s, a coquina building was constructed over the well, which was named the Spring House, and the well is still marketed as a spring.
The groundwater under the well is piped out of a spout within a coquina stone mantle above the well and flows back into the well below.
Where Does the Fountain of Youth Water Come from?
The water from the well flows directly from the Floridan aquifer system, which is an underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock that lies below ground under Florida, parts of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina.
The water contains over 30 minerals and is said to have an egg-like, salty and/or metallic taste due to the sulfur and other minerals in the water.
Can You Drink the Fountain of Youth Water?
Yes, visitors who purchase a ticket to the park are allowed to drink directly from the well in the spring house. Small plastic cups are provided or visitors can bring a water bottle to fill up.
Visitors can also purchase a souvenir bottle in the gift shop and fill it up with the water which is piped directly into the shop.
If you can’t make it to the Fountain of Youth Park in person to drink the water, you can always purchase a bottle of the water from the park’s gift shop online and have it shipped to you.
If you are interested in visiting the Fountain of Youth to drink the water but want to save money on tickets, check out this article on Fountain of Youth discount tickets.
Reynolds, Charles B. Fact Versus Fiction for the new Historical St. Augustine. Published by the Author, 1937, web.archive.org/web/20171020081748/http://ufdc.ufl.edu/USACH00124/00001/1j
Deagan, Kathleen. Historical Archaeology at the Fountain of Yourth Park (8-SJ-31) ST. Augustine, Florida 1934-2007. University of Florida, 1 July. 2008, flagler.edu/media/documents/campus-community/historic-st-augustine-research-institute/funded-research/2002-Deagan-FOY-report-reduced.pdf
Chaney, Edward. “Report on the 1985 Excavations at the Fountain of Youth Park Site (8-SJ-31), St. Augustine, Florida.” University of Florida, 1987, floridamuseum.ufl.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/69/2017/09/1987_Chaney_FOY_FieldReport.pdf
Ballou, Harold and Roger W. Toll. “Proposed Fountain of Youth National Monument to the 72nd Congress.” United States Department of the Interior National Park Service, npshistory.com/publications/proposed-parks/fl-fountain-of-youth-nm.pdf
“The Spring House.” Fountain of Youth Park, fountainofyouthflorida.com/exhibits/the-spring-house/