The story of the quirky waterfront attraction destroyed in the 1921 Tampa hurricane

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By naming his pier the Fountain of Youth, Edwin H. Tomlinson was capitalizing on an old Florida legend. It’s the myth that Spanish conquistador Ponce de Leon was in search of the famous rejuvenating waterspout when he “discovered” Florida in 1513, according to the Smithsonian Magazine. There is no evidence in the historical record that this was actually the case. According to the story, de Leon never mentioned the fountain in his correspondence with Spanish monarchs about his explorations. His name became linked to the search for the fountain by later historians like Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés, who was not Ponce’s biggest fan and wanted to make him look silly saying he had gone on a quest ridiculous.

The legend, however, captured the imagination of Floridians, including early visitors to Tomlinson Pier. Locals and tourists fetched water on site, according to The St. Pete Catalyst. One of them was Dr. Jesse F. Conrad, who first visited in 1908. Engaging in proper magical thinking, Conrad made a deal with fate that he would buy the pier if William Howard Taft won the next US presidential election. When Taft won, Conrad kept his promise and added a willow branch sign to attract visitors. The sign read “At the fountain of youth,” according to Tour St. Pete. The new owner made another change – while Tomlinson gave the water free, Conrad charged.

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