Fountain Of Youth, St. Augustine
The Fountain Of Youth, St. Augustine was my absolute favorite place that we visited. When I realized it was located within walking distance of The Old Jail, I quickly announced that would be our next stop. I'm going to sound like total nerd here, but I absolutely loved history class in high school. I found the stories so fascinating and often found myself skipping ahead to find out what happened next which made for perfect test scores, ha! I still like to watched documentaries on Netflix from time to time. St. Augustine itself is very rich in history but Ponce De Leon's Fountain of Youth Park was like a textbook come to life. It would've been so much more fun to learn this way than to sit at a desk all day.
Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, the original site of the Nation's oldest city. Located in the area first explored by Juan Ponce de Leon in 1513 and settled by Pedro Menendez de Aviles in 1565, historic St. Augustine is the oldest successful European settlement in the United States. Colonial America started right HERE, 55 years before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, and 42 years before Jamestown!
The Spring House at Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park is a beautiful 60-year old coquina building that encompasses the original spring that was recorded in a seventeenth century Spanish land grant. With signed guest books stretching back to 1868, the Fountain of Youth is the oldest attraction in Florida, and the Spring House is the centerpiece of the historical Juan Ponce de Leon experience at the Park. The spring issues forth directly from the Floridan aquifer, which lies below ground under much of North Florida. The water contains over 30 minerals and the spring would have been the perfect replenishment site for Juan Ponce de Leon's ships upon landing on Florida's shores 500 years ago.
Hubby and I drank from The Fountain of Youth, let's see if we stay young forever :) . They sell a bottle version in the gift shop but we wanted the authentic thing. It wasn't that yummy but it's literally water from a well.
...These first Christian Indians attended Mass in the town of St. Augustine until after 1587, when the first Franciscan mission doctrina was established at the Nombre de Dios, and was given the same name. Franciscan friar Antonio de Escobedo was assigned there, and helped build the first Nombre de Dios mission church. – FLORIDA MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY
Visiting the Fountain of Youth park is like walking back in time. This actual property is where Spanish settlers arrived in America for the first time and were greeted by Native American who took them in and provided food and shelter. The fact that the first Thanksgiving happened right on this property - on a field we were walking on - was so mind boggling. Truly amazing! At present time, archaeologists are still digging here and finding artifacts from early settlers and the Native Americans who originally called this land home. We even got to check out a presentation where we got to witness a canon going off. We also made our way across the boardwalk which provided a serene place to reflect.
What made this experience a truly memorable one was the conversation that Hubby and I had with a family of Cherokee Native Americans after their presentation. I learned a lot from what they were sharing with everyone, but ever eager to learn more and so fascinated with history, I had a million questions after everyone else had left. While my textbooks were intriguing, the older I've gotten, the more I found how inaccurate a lot of things are that we were taught in school about how America came to be. We had an eye opening conversation about Columbus, Thanksgiving, race, the fact that they have to carry around a card that "proves" they are Native American to the government, slavery, gender equality and a few other things. It got deep. I just have to say how important it is to hold on to your culture and beliefs - never feel forced to assimilate - their people were killed if they chose not to but they stood firm anyway. One of the men told me that he had to "pretend to be white" for most of his life because he wasn't allowed to practice anything of his Native American culture. I appreciate how they continue to share their truth despite what we are forced to believe is the "True" American History. As a parent, I was really curious to know how Native Americans raise their kids in our public school system. This particular family told me that they recently began home schooling due to the contradictory information that their children were learning, as well as the ridicule their kids were facing in school. It was also a constant uphill battle between them and the school when their kids wore traditional jewelry and such. I was also quite fascinated about how highly women have been regarded in their society since the very beginning. Because women were seen as "life givers", they walked equally with the men - side by side. Woman made the majority of the decisions, even deciding the fate of prisoners. If a women decided to divorce her husband, that man would be heavily chastised by other men. Women were - still are - the decision makers because they are the ones who truly keep the tribe going by birthing new members.
Native American culture is so rich. I wish I had the opportunity to sit and chat with them all day. I'm grateful for their candor and the amount of knowledge they openly shared with us. I will never forget it.