by: Nelson Hicks Updated:None —
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla -- WSBTV.com hits the road this week to discover ruthless pirates, amazing eats, fascinating wildlife, world championship golf and some of America's earliest history on a trip to St. Augustine, Fla.
Many vacationers to St. Augustine start their trip at what's called "America's first historic site," the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park.
St. Augustine's history stretches back to 1513 when Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon first landed in the New World. Any discussion of Ponce de Leon usually includes mention of the Fountain of Youth, too.
"Not one word about the Fountain of Youth was ever written by Don Juan Ponce de Leon," said the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park re-enactor Chad Light. "There's no evidence to suggest he knew anything about it. But, regardless of that, the mythology that has been built up around it is so ingrained with Ponce de Leon that when someone says Ponce de Leon, you think Fountain of Youth."
The mythology originates with a number of authors, writing accounts of Ponce de Leon some years after he made the voyage to the land he called La Florida, detailing the explorer's search for the mysterious Fountain of Youth.
Today, visitors to St. Augustine can drink from a Fountain of Youth, but that's because Luella Day McConnell, known as "Diamond Lil," created the current Fountain in 1904.
"Diamond Lil was a shameless self-promoter, had come down from the Klondike, purchased the property and began to sell admission to see the fabled Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth," Light told wsbtv.com. "The rest, literally, is history."
Visitors to the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park can take a sip from the world famous fountain, but there are other offerings at the park, too. They can set foot in the 4,000 year-old Timucua Indian Village of Seloy and discover the ways the Indians survived at the site for so long. The park is also the site where Pedro Menéndez de Avilés arrived in the New World in 1565 and established the first continuously occupied European settlement in the country. Guests can learn about the birthplace of European America and take part in a re-enactment of how the Spanish defended St. Augustine from enemies. Artifacts that were uncovered at the park from hundreds of years ago are on display, too.
"One thing that people are typically unprepared for is that there is more here than just a sip of water," Light said. "People will pay the admission to come into the park, take that drink, not knowing what they are going to see is the evidence of a very large, very ancient native habitation here, that they are going to see the field that contains the original settlement site of the Spanish, that the 15 acres here truly are one of the most beautiful spots in Florida, as far as our view and what we have to see."
"When the Spanish arrived in 1565, this is the site that they started St. Augustine," Light noted. "They would move. Eventually, they would end up in a town of south of here, but in this city's now 446 years of history, this site has all 446 years of European history and all of the 4,000 years plus of native history."
This story is sponsored by FloridasHistoricCoast.com.