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Centuries of Civilization Connected Through the Fountain of Youth

By Kelly Church

Located on the original site of the country's oldest city ? St. Augustine, FL ? Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park is a historical landmark that anyone can experience. Purchased by current owners in 1927 to turn it into an experience for everyone to celebrate the landing site of Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León in the United States and the Native American tribe Timucua that inhabited the area. Media Director Kit Keating says the property's rich history provides a one-of-a-kind experience, diving into different cultures over many centuries and how they are connected in this one spot.

"With signed guest books stretching back to 1867, The Fountain of Youth is Florida's oldest attraction," Keating says. "After the 1927 purchase of the park- the grandfather of the current owners sought to improve and beautify the grounds."

During landscape renovations, a human skull was found buried. Authorities were called, and ultimately, the Smithsonian Institution after the skull was deemed to be a member of the Timucuan tribe. Thus, began a several year archaeological dig that resulted in finding the first Christianized Native American burials in the country, the Christian Mission Church that was built in the late 1500s by Franciscan friars, and learning that the site was the location if the first settlement of St. Augustine.

"This unique and delightful location has been preserved for future generations by the Fraser family for nearly a century," Keating says. "With its unique blend of the commemoration of Ponce de León's legendary visit, exhibition of historical firsts of mid-sixteenth century Spanish Colonialism and interpretation of the original Timucua inhabitants, the park makes for a must-see visit for any traveler to Florida's first coast."

The park sits on 15 acres right on the waterfront. Tours are self-guided, but there are many shows for visitors who want to hear from the Ponce de León experts. Shows explore the different aspects of the Timucuan tribe, including their burial grounds, the village of Seloy and the dugout canoe. There are also shows focusing on Ponce de León and his travels to America, including an exhibit solely on maritime traditions. The park has a full day's worth of elements to see and interact with, including the San Agustin Watchtower, the 1513 Ponce Landing Memorial and cannon firings. Coming up in the spring, according to Keating, is a working blacksmith shop.

Keating says that over the years the Fraser family, who owns the park, has received many offers to sell but that they are unwavering in their decision to decline every time. He insists that the family views the property not as a luxury residential community or waterfront hotel, but as a "vital and vibrant historical experience for humanity."

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