In Florida, citrus orchards and an old well have been reborn as a Spanish explorer’s quixotic dream come true.
Created in 1904 by local entrepreneur “Diamond Lil” (aka Luella Day McConnell), the 15-acre Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park is purportedly located on the site where Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon first landed in 1513.
Although Ponce de Leon has long been associated with the story for the search for the mythical fountain, he actually never wrote anything about any such quest. It was only after his death that other biographers wrote that the fountain was the motivation behind his expedition in Florida.
The legend of the mysterious life-giving spring dates back to at least the time of Herodotus, placed everywhere from Ethiopia to the mythical islands of Bimini, but since Ponce de Leon’s time it has firmly been associated with Florida.
The larger-than-life personality of Diamond Lil matched her colorful background. She left her life as a practicing doctor in Chicago (unusual for a woman of the era) to take part in the Klondike gold rush of the 1890s (even more unusual). She must have done something right, because she was described as arriving in St. Augustine, Florida in 1904 with “cash and a diamond in her front tooth.”
She bought land and promptly opened her park and converted the on-site well into the Fountain of Youth. St. Augustine at the time was firmly gripped with a kind of Ponce de Leon mania, so her choice of themes was appropriate. In no time at all she began unearthing “artifacts” related to the Spanish explorer, including one that looked suspiciously similar to an old salt cellar.
Since her time, the park claims to have made several important archaeological discoveries, including Ponce de Leon’s “recording landmark and accompanying artifacts,” Native American artifacts, and evidence of an early colony on the site.