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 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 that 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.
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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