Ponce de Leon, it seems, was a short fellow. Or so the folks who crafted the statues (or are they statuettes?) of him in Punta Gorda would have us think.

Now we know people centuries ago were short. Just take a look at antique beds and pioneer cottages. I’d be hitting my head on the lintel every time I ducked through the door! I had that trouble in Nepal, in fact, in every cab, bus, and shop. And I’m only 5’5″. Still.

Sunset at Ponce De Leon Park
Locals gather at the beach at Ponce De Leon Park at sunset

Ponce de Leon Park is Punta Gorda’s secret beach. It’s where everyone goes to see the sunset, to walk the short boardwalk through the mangroves, and to do a little fishing.

Ponce Park anglers
Anglers paddling through the park on the way to Charlotte Harbor (John Keatley)

It’s the also home of the Peace River Wildlife Center – where they rehab injured birds and mammals – and a frequent field trip destination for the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center, for wading out into the harbor to scoop up tiny critters.

Luna white owl
Luna, a leucistic owl, is the most famous resident of the Peace River Wildlife Center

Perhaps Ponce waded ashore here? There is a creek, and a point of land. The park founders seemed to have thought so. The park is home to two statues of Ponce De Leon. Maybe three. The Ponces of Ponce De Leon Park are adorably sized for a would-be conqueror.

Ponce De Leon Statue
Another statue is near the beginning of the boardwalk in Ponce De Leon Park

We kept looking for more about Ponce De Leon in Punta Gorda. We found another statue along the Harborwalk, and even a scene of conquest on the side of Dean’s Restaurant.

Ponce De Leon harborwalk
Ponce De Leon statue along the Punta Gorda Harborwalk

In 1513, the famed conquistador landed along Charlotte Harbor looking, as one did in those days, for gold. Rumor has it he was also looking for the Fountain of Youth. With a little help, we found it in downtown Punta Gorda. Despite the Florida Department of Health warning on the side of the fountain, there are people who fill jugs of water with it and swear by its curative properties.

Punta Gorda radium spring
John takes a taste of the Fountain of Youth for the sake of science.

It is high in radioactivity, according to the sign. Our taste test tells us it is also quite high in sulfur. We’ve already learned from Pluto water what that can do for you.

Sulfur spring Punta Gorda
Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Did Ponce sail the ocean green?

While Ponce didn’t take any gold home, when he returned in 1521 to establish a colony on this coast, he suffered a fatal wound at the hands of the Calusa. They understandably didn’t like the Spanish Armada snooping around their cities in the mangrove islands.

John watching dolphins Punta Gorda
We sailed around Charlotte Harbor too, with King Fisher Fleet

Ponce died far from home in Havana, Cuba, in 1522, from complications related to that injury. And we have these pint-sized Ponces in Punta Gorda to remind us of his footsteps here.

Ponce and John
What the well-dressed conquistador is wearing. Okay, maybe he’s not THAT short.

Visit Ponce’s hangouts in Punta Gorda

Ponce De Leon Park
Peace River Wildlife Center
Punta Gorda Harborwalk
Charlotte Harbor, on a CHEC field trip
Charlotte Harbor, via King Fisher Fleet