As St. Petersburg became ever more popular with tourists, clever entrepreneurs dreamt up ways to use the waterfront to its best advantage. An early winter resident of St. Petersburg, Edwin H. Tomlinson, known as much for his eccentricities as his philanthropies, built one of St. Petersburg’s most unusual Piers at today’s Fourth Avenue South.
A wealthy northerner who had made a fortune in the mining industry, Tomlinson had a reputation for generosity, funding many local organizations including St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, a student orchestra, and the Domestic Manual Training School. In 1901 he built a pier at the foot of Fourth Avenue South with a cottage at the end where his father passed the days fishing through a hole in the floor. Tomlinson soon drilled an artesian well at the base of the pier and promoted the sulfuric waters that were emitted as “miraculously restorative.” Soon his attraction, dubbed The Fountain of Youth, became a popular stop on the tourist circuit and even locals began visiting on a daily basis to fill up their jugs with the smelly drink. (In the early 1970s the well water was shown to contain more lithium – a well-known mood stabilizer – than any other spring in Pinellas County… no wonder it proved so popular!)
In 1908 Dr. Jesse F. Conrad visited the Fountain of Youth and decided it was the perfect location for a spa. He vowed that if William Howard Taft was elected President, that he would return to St. Pete and buy Tomlinson’s Pier. Taft did indeed win and Dr. Conrad made good on his promise. After buying the Fountain of Youth Pier he decorated the entrance with a photo-worthy arch made of willow branches and sold baths in the sulfur water and youthful sips from the spring.
The Fountain of Youth Pier was destroyed in the 1921 hurricane and not replaced, though the spring remains active today at 4th Ave South and 1st Street South.