Ponce de Leon Springs State Park is a state park located in Volusia County, Florida. The park contains the historic Fountain of Youth and other natural springs, which are believed to have healing powers. It also has an 18-hole golf course. The park was named after the fictional Ponce de Leon who sought the fountain in hopes of finding eternal youth. In reality, there is no evidence that any one person ever found the fountain.
Visitors can see remnants of the foundation walls, arches, windows, doors, skylights, fire escape stairs, and terracotta roof tiles. There is also an interpretive center open seven days a week. On certain weekends, costumed interpreters perform living history reenactments of daily life in the 1890s. Amenities include four miles (6km) of multiuse trails, picnic areas, campsites, group shelters, bathhouse, playground, boat ramp, nine holes of golf, tennis courts, horse stables, a full-service campground, beaches, bicycling, canoeing/kayaking, cabins, cruises, fishing, hiking, pool, snorkeling, softball fields, soccer fields, volleyball court, and zip lining. The park includes a visitor information center, nature museum, and gift shop.
The name “Ponce de Leon” was given by 19th century tourists hoping to romanticize life in Florida. The original waterway was called Old Spanish Waterway because it was built under contract with Spain in 1792, but the name did not last long; soon it was replaced by Ponce de Leon. At first, little more than a swampy wasteland, the area now known as Ponce de Leon Springs grew rapidly following the discovery of the spring in 1821. Canals were dug to channel water from the spring to St. Augustine where it could be used for irrigation.
By 1830, the town of Ponce de Leon had grown up around the spring. A hotel, post office, blacksmiths shop, carpenter’s shop, barber’s shop, restaurant, etc., all operated by their respective owners. Following the death of Joseph Miller in 1831, his two sons ran into financial trouble. They sold the land to Henry Flagler in 1891, who began construction on the railroad later known as the Seaboard Air Line Railroad. He set up the Ponce de Leon Hotel at the same time, along with a freight depot, station agent’s house, telegraph office, etc.
This new development brought even greater prosperity, until 1929, when the stock market crashed. Once again, the banks went bankrupt and many people lost their jobs. However, Henry Flagler foresaw this crisis, and made provisions for his workers. With the help of John D. Rockefeller, he purchased enough railroads to take over the operation of the line, including most of its right-of-way. He then offered employment to every worker, retaining those he particularly wanted. Many of these former employees stayed at the Ponce de Leon Hotel, which continued to operate profitably until 1971. That year, Conrail abandoned service between Lake City and Ponce de Leon Springs, closing the hotel in 1980. The buildings deteriorated, until only the foundations remained. After 22 years, work crews returned to restore some of the ruins.
- nature trails
- wildlife viewing
- cross country skiing
- mountain bike riding
- nature trail