Viva Florida 500 GreaterJax™ is a series of occasional pieces about Florida history and this year’s celebrations of 500 years of same in and around northeast Florida.
You’d think after about 500 years, people in Greater Jacksonville would know for sure that the Fountain of Youth is actually in St. Augustine.
The theme park, the passion play, the free, stinky sulfur water . . . .
Your Examiner is guiltily happy to report – practically on the eve of the of Florida’s 500 birthday – that history vis-à-vis the Fountain of Youth is not so clear cut.
What the Indians actually said
To be brief, the local Indians, who have inhabited Greater Jacksonville for some 12,000 years, have said many things about where the Fountain of Youth might be.
One of their contentions is that Green Cove Springs, seat of Clay county and home to a world famous sulfur spirng, is the original fountain of youth.
Makes perfect sense.
About 50 yards from the St. Johns river, the spring head is easily accessible to river pirates and other explorers.
However, according to 16th-century Spanish historian Francisco Lopez de Gomara, Indians living on the island of Hispaniola (now the Dominican Republic) told him of a fountain with healing waters north of Cuba and Haiti.
They used words like “river” and “waterfall” and “spring” to describe this magical place.
What they didn’t do is tell him where it is.
And then there’s the matter of Juan Ponce De León
Juan Ponce de León was 39 by the time he sailed to the New World.
Undoubtedly he’d heard of the Indians’ mystical waters.
In fact, there are at least two more clear-water springs named for Ponce De León – De Leon Springs north of Deland in Volusia county and one in Holmes county just west of I-10 – both of which claim to be the Fountain of Youth.
Between taking land in the name of Spain and hunting for gold, Ponce De León had a lot on his plate, but his main claim to fame in the history texts is not as conquistador.
In the early days of Spanish exploration, everybody got to be famous for something.
“Discoverer of the Fountain of Youth” is what stuck to Ponce de León.
Other top contenders for “Fountain Of Youth”
So besides the springs in Green Cove and St. Augustine and the two de Leon springs, there are surprisingly many more and not just because Florida has more springs than any other state.
- Six separate mineral springs in Safety Harbor (Hillsborough county northeast of Clearwater)
- Wakulla Springs (“place of mystery waters”) south of Tallahassee in Wakulla Springs county, the deepest spring in the world at 200 feet
- Silver Springs, “sun-glittering waters” near Ocala in Marion county, considered a sacred place of “life-giving waters”
And, believe it or not, there are others, even in GreaterJax™.
The judgment of history
Except for purposes of tourism, it flat doesn’t matter where the Fountain of Youth is, or if there is one, much less who discovered it – and it’s even money most days whether or not it was Ponce de León.
Enjoy the park in St. Augustine because it’s fun.
It’s tacky and quirky and all those other fine qualities that make GR8RJax™ tourist attractions unique.
As one wag has even observed, the healing-mystery-Indian-mineral water must not be that great because all the Indians and conquistadors died.
Perhaps what’s meant is they looked good doing it.
©2013 All rights reserved.
OFFICIAL BIO: K Truitt is a second-generation, native Floridian born in Jacksonville. Truitt worked in public higher education for 25 years, most recently in Texas, is a successful grant writer, knows newspaper publishing, printing and graphic design and wants to work in the public sector. Contact: email@example.com
Green Cove Springs in the 1890s
Tourists have traveled to Green Cove Springs, Fla., to take the waters since at least the middle of the 19th century. Located in historic Spring Park directly behind City Hall on US 17, the head of the warm sulfur springs produces 3,000 gallons of water a minute at a constant temperature of 78°F year round.
Spring head & city pool
A modern view of the spring head, where the warm water fills the municipal pool. Constantly refreshed, the water is absolutely pure and has never been chlorinated. Perfectly clear to a depth of 28’, this spring has been enjoyed by such rich Yankee tourists as Henry Flagler and John Jacob Astor.
Spring run down to the St. Johns River
In the distance on the right is the Green Cove Springs city pool house, where the warm springs fill the municipal pool then run on down to the river. Follow the run all the way to the river, and you find yourself at Green Cove.
Ponce De Leon Springs
Located about half a mile south of the town of Ponce De Leon in the Panhandle, Ponce De Leon Springs Park is a state recreation area. A perfectly clear, shallow springs, the basin produces about 14 million gallons of pure water day at a constant temperature of 68°F and is a favorite spot for swimming and snorkeling.
Ponce De Leon Springs State Park
- 2860 Ponce de Leon Springs Rd.
- Ponce de Leon, Fla. 32455
De Leon Springs
Visited and used by local Indians for at least 6,000 years, in the 1800s DeLeon Springs became a winter resort where tourists were promised a “fountain of youth impregnated with a deliciously healthy combination of soda and sulphur.” Now a state park, DeLeon Springs boasts the
The Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant – housed in the park in a real old Spanish sugar mill – where guests make their own pancakes at their table.
DeLeon Springs State Park
- 601 Ponce de Leon Boulevard
- De Leon Springs, Florida 32130