Native people known as the Mayaca lived near what is now known as De Leon Springs for at least 6,000 years before Spanish missions were established in the area in the late 1500s. Mounds and two ancient canoes have been found in the spring. The oldest canoe was carbon dated to about 4050 B.C., making it among the oldest canoes found in America.
1832 – The First Water-Powered Sugar Mill in Florida
The first water-powered sugar mill in Florida was built here in 1832 – some of the brickwork and machinery are preserved behind the restaurant.
Late 1800s to early 1900s – Tourism Booms
By the late 1800s, the area had become a tourist destination, with a steamboat and railroad providing transportation. To attract tourists, local residents changed the name from Spring Garden to Ponce de Leon Springs and referred to the spring as the Fountain of Youth. The Ponce de Leon Springs Hotel and Casino was built in 1925 (“Casino” referred to a large room for events and dining, not gambling.) With only 14 rooms, it catered to wealthy northern visitors.
1950s - Ponce de Leon Springs
The property became one of over 100 roadside attractions in the state when it opened as “Ponce de Leon Springs” in 1953. It featured tropical gardens, a jungle cruise, a tram tour and a water-skiing elephant!
1982 – De Leon Springs State Park
The property was operated as a private recreational park until 1982, when the state of Florida and Volusia County purchased 55 acres that became De Leon Springs State Park. Additional land purchased to protect the spring resulted in the park’s current size of 625 acres.