The Fountain of Youth Park has been the site of many exciting archaeological discoveries of national historic importance. New archaeological excavations are currently underway with funding provided by the State of Florida, the Fountain of Youth, and Flagler College. The project, directed by Dr. Kathleen Deagan, renowned Florida archaeologist from the University of Florida, is a search for the foundation of the first wooden fort built by the Spanish and the first Catholic mission constructed on the site.
Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, St. Augustine, (800) 356-8222
For more information visit: www.fountainofyouthflorida.com
The Archaeological Dig at Menendez’s First Camp SiteCovered in winter-burned grass and unspectacular in every way, the desolate field overlooking the Matanzas River is barren. The plot of land at the Fountain of Youth seems better suited for a soccer field than a historic site.
However, it is that same plot that University of Florida Archaeologist Kathy Deagan and her team use small trowels to uncover the spot where Spain's Pedro Menendez de Aviles stepped ashore and established what would become
St. Augustine, the nation's oldest city. Deagan has spent a significant chunk of her career on this tract of land in an attempt to fill in missing pieces of century-old puzzles about Menendez and his first camp. Deagan and her team are building on work archaeologists were doing in the 1940s.
Deagan is the research curator at the University of Florida Natural History Museum and a lead member of the Historic St. Augustine Research Institute, a joint effort by UF and Flagler College. She has been working on the Fountain of Youth site on and off since 1976, most of those years trying to confirm the spot was actually Menendez's camp. She and her team of University of Florida and Flagler College students now search for one of those puzzle pieces that has eluded archaeologists for decades—the actual location of Menendez's first fort. Finding it would solve the mystery that has surrounded the structure for years, and help put in perspective the first Spanish settlement in St. Augustine.
Menendez set up the first successful European colony in North America in September of 1565, 50 years before the English landed at Jamestown. Deagan is conducting digs on the grounds of the Fountain of Youth and the adjacent Mission of Nombre de Dios on San Marco Avenue. With 800 people, including 26 women, he camped near the village of Timucuan Indian Chief Seloy. At the time, the village sprawled along the Matanzas River, spanning from present-day May Street to the mission. The Indians gave Menendez use of their council house, which his soldiers fortified with a moat and a breastwork of earth and wood. Bits and pieces of historical documentation tell researchers the structure would have been large—possibly able to hold hundreds of people—and that Menendez stored munitions and maybe even housed officers there. However, he was not there for long. Seloy and his people grew tired of the Spanish. They burned part of the fort and ran Menendez and his crew off in the spring of 1566. Menendez regrouped on Anastasia Island, building another settlement with a European-style fort there, and then in the 1570s moved the settlement to where St. Augustine stands today. Yet Deagan is most interested in the first landing site and that early fort.
There is a major problem: while there are theories about what these council houses might have looked like—anything from oval to rectangular—no archaeological dig has ever managed to uncover one. Deagan’s team is focused on two sites: one at the Fountain of Youth and the second at the mission, where a 16th-century moat was found. At the Fountain of Youth, her team has uncovered large tree-trunk-sized posts in the ground, which she believes might form the wall of a large rectangular building. While this is an exciting find, there is still much work to be done. Archaeology can be a long road of discovery, and researchers often spend years uncovering remnants of the past, and even longer trying to piece them together.
For example, it took years to conclusively identify the afore-mentioned plot of land as Menendez's first camp site. The discovery of a barrel well, a lime kiln, and outlines of buildings helped archaeologists and researchers reach that point. Actually, the archaeological site had been discovered in the 1950s was thought to be merely an Indian village until 1986 when Deagan and others began finding European objects there.
Nombre de DiosNext door to the Fountain of Youth, Our Lady of La Leche Shrine marks the original permanent settlement of St. Augustine founded by Pedro Menendez and the celebration of the nation's first Mass on site.
Some consider the Mission Nombre de Dios to be one of America's most sacred and historic sites. It was there, over 400 years ago, that Father Lopez de Mendoza Grajales offered the first Mass in America's first colonial city. It was the beginning of the permanent history of Christianity in what is now the United States.
This mission site, which remains in religious use today and contains an early cemetery, is also located close to the landing site of the Pedro Menendez de Aviles expedition and the first Spanish village in Florida. Because it was established soon after St. Augustine in 1565, this Mission settlement constituted a highly significant part of Spain's colonial presence in Florida.
Surrounded by the beauty of nature and housed amid the trees and walkways, shrines and statues give testimony to the religious faith of the settlers. The historic importance and religious significance of the mission are inseparable.
The Great Cross that marks the mission's location was erected in 1965 to commemorate the St. Augustine Quadricentennial and, in turn, the mission's 400th anniversary. It is, perhaps, the most noticeable monument on the grounds. The cross is a 208-foot towering beacon of stainless steel that can be seen for miles out to sea at night.
Dedicated to Our Lady of La Leche, the chapel is the historic cornerstone of the mission. It houses an exquisitely carved statue of Mary nursing the infant Jesus. The devotion to Our Lady of La Leche was established by the Spanish settlers in St. Augustine around 1615. Today, tourists come from all over the US to the Chapel of Our Lady to pray for mothers and mothers-to-be. Excavations are ongoing. The University of Florida has been conducting archaeological digs since 1993 in an effort to illuminate the secrets of the past.
Explore the Mission of Nombre de Dios and take the journey that retraces the steps of America's first founding fathers.
Free admission. Phone: 904-824-2809 Web: www.missionandshrine.org
Longs LandingThe Joseph Hernandez wharf landing site, believed to be the first in use in the early 1800s in Flagler County, has been discovered in what will become Long's Landing Estuary Park. The landing was used to ship turpentine, rum and other locally raised products to far destinations.
In March 2008, information was received by the City of Palm Coast from a local historian that initiated the investigation. As a result, with the help of an old land
grant map, determination was made where the landing site was originally located. When a current map was overlaid on the old one, the waterways were the same and on the old map the landing was marked. Archaeologist Dana Ste. Clair was hired to research this site. To Mr. Ste. Clair’s and the City’s delight, a major discovery, which has been determined a “true archaeological jewel,” was uncovered. This Hernandez Landing site has been registered in the Florida Master Site File ahd has all the eligible qualifications for the National Register of Historic Places. The authorization process is underway.
A True “Historical Jewel” discovered in Palm Coast.
The wharf provides an optimum historical resource to promote and educate local visitors about early life in this area in North Central Florida. The City of Palm Coast is proposing to build a Long Creek Nature Preserve Environmental Education Center on this project site. Programs willprovide recreational opportunities and historic/cultural history lessons to visitors and citizens.
Long’s Landing is a 9.3-acre parcel that the City of Palm Coast purchased for $4.5 million in March of 2008. Aorida Communities Trust has recently awarded the City $2.55 million in reimbursement toward this purchase and would not have been possible without the $1.365 million from the Flagler County Environmentally Sensitive Lands Program.
Long’s Landing corridor is comprised primarily of natural creeks, waterways and wetlands and is a natural estuary that also serves as a vital ecological and drainage corridor foundation for Palm Coast and the Greenway Network. This project site represents a critical open piece to the link between the Long Creek and Big Mulberry Branch corridors.
This property lies next to 225 additional City-owned acres where the main entrance will be located. The natural settings will provide a valuable array of recreational and natural resource benefits for everyone. The Development will include a passive park which will provide shell and paved trails; a lateral fishing pier; two kayak/canoe launch areas, one into the College Waterway and the other into Long’s Creek; wildlife observation and boardwalk; nature overlook; infor- mational kiosks; nature/historical edu- cation center, the City’s first blue trail (which is a waterway with signs); rest- room facilities; parking lot; entry road and 12-foot roadway with a turnaround for launch area.
Extensive infrastructure will be necessary for the project including rip rap stabilization, culvert improvement, wetland buffer, utilities, water, widening of a bridge for the top section trail connection located on Palm Harbor Parkway.