Forever Young in St. Augustine

“Have you had a drink of the water?” the young man with the closely cropped beard and “Winston” name tag asked.

The threshold of youth

The threshold of youth

“Do I look younger?” I shot back. “I suppose you’re going to tell me you’re 100 years old.” I’d done this before. I’d drank from the Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine several years ago when a name tag wearer called Adam had claimed such.

“Yes, I was one of the first employees here in 1908,” he countered with not too much conviction.

So despite the fact that the Fountain of Youth Park recently underwent its own rejuvenation to focus on education and nature, it still held that element of hokey that underlies much of St. Augustine’s time travel experience. For some reason, that made me glad as I tossed back a medicine cup full of spring water.

Winston went on to educate me, nonetheless, that the naturally healthful water springs from the Floridan [sic] Aquifer, which waters most of Florida, meaning I’ve probably been drinking it for years.

500 Years of History

I also had been educated earlier at the park by a man dressed in knee breeches. Standing next to a bonfire next and thatched lean-to, he told me how life for him as an African-American was back in colonial St. Augustine. He didn’t look a day over 40, so maybe there was something after all to this Fountain of Youth stuff.

As St. Augustine and all of Florida celebrate in 2013 VIVA FLORIDA 500 — the commemoration of Juan Ponce de Leon’s discovery of Florida in 1513 — it occurs to me that the entire Old City district has maintained a youthful vibe that belies the mustiness and hauteur of a history that predates Jamestown, Williamsburg, and all those other historically snobby destinations.

Many places claim that Ponce landed there during his two expeditions to the state he named La Florida. Only St. Augustine can point to proof. The only surviving navigational reading recorded of Ponce de Leon’s first voyage to the New World was at a position of 30 degrees 8 minutes north latitude, just off the coast south of St. Augustine.

Demonstrators and re-enactors people the attractions and cobbled streets throughout the Old City. British soldiers fire cannons at circa-1695 Castillo

The British are coming! at Castillo de San Marcos.

The British are coming! at Castillo de San Marcos.

de San Marcos National Monument. At the Colonial Quarter, newly reopened in March 2013 to celebrate VIVA FLORIDA, 17th-century Spanish blacksmiths, 18th-century British barmaids, leather-workers, boat-builders, and others dress the part to demonstrate St. Augustine’s history of Tequesta Indians, Spanish, Greeks, British, and Americans.

And at the Pirate Museum? Well, yes, of course, dastardly buccaneers await you.

Trains & Champagne

Grand churches and hotels mark the era of greatest American contribution, when railroad guy Henry Flagler spared no expense to lure visitors in the late 1880s to ride his train to what was then a remote town on marshy bay shores.

With street-fulls of historic architecture dating from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, St. Augustine has much to boast about in the bygones, but ever as much in the here-and-now. Known for its B&Bs in restored digs and its vibrant dining and shopping scene, it also connects by bridge to St. Augustine Beach, loved by surfers, windsurfers, and white sand-lovers alike. The youthful beach spirits balances nicely with the past.

Beyond spring 2013, furthermore, the town continues to party like Ponce straight through 2015, when it celebrates the city’s 450th. Hold the youth juice and bring on the champagne!

Contact St. Johns County Visitors & Conventions Bureau for more information on VIVA FLORIDA 500 celebrations and beyond.