A refreshing sight on a hot summer’s day, this splendid fountain has been a downtown landmark in one of the region’s biggest cities for exactly 139 years this month. And while it is certainly a popular symbol for many, the story behind its appearance in the Valley is a bit less well-known.
Made of iron and standing some 40 feet high, the fountain was designed by a French sculptor, J.P. Victor Andre, and manufactured by the Jones, Kirtland Iron Company — the same firm that created the dome on the U.S. Capitol in Washington. Thought to have been inspired by the famous founts in Paris’s Place de la Concorde and the 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition in London, the fountain was one of five casts made from Andre’s design and sold through the foundry’s catalog (list price: $2,500). One of the other copies still stands in Forsyth Park in Savannah, Georgia; it was prominently featured in the movie Forrest Gump.
Interestingly enough, the fountain was not the original choice to occupy the square in which it now stands. Several years after the end of the Civil War, city fathers sought to erect a monument — a granite shaft or other suitable sculpture — in memory of local soldiers lost in the conflict. A huge celebration was planned for July 4, 1867, which organizers hoped would raise the $20,000 needed to build their memorial. A parade, boat races on the Hudson, a hot-air balloon ascension, patriotic speeches — as well as an outdoor dinner for 1,500 and, naturally, fireworks — were all to be part of the big day. Some 20,000 people arrived in the city for the festivities; all went well until the afternoon, when (according to one source) “a succession of the severest thunder storms ever witnessed in this section of the country” barreled down on the region. Forced to seek shelter in stores, private halls, and “every conceivable place,” the crowds were denied their outdoor dinner and fireworks — and the city fathers raised far less capital than they had hoped.
Enter Harvey Gridley Eastman, owner of Eastman Business College, one of the largest commercial schools in the country at the time. Using his influence (and ready cash), Eastman convinced the city to purchase the fountain instead of the granite shaft, donating $70,000 to have the gusher installed on a piece of land adjacent to his school. It was dedicated — with a ceremony that included a balloon launch and fireworks — on July 4, 1870. The next year, Eastman was elected mayor.
Do you know in which Valley burg this beautiful bubbler stands, and by what name it is known? If so, send us your answer as a comment in the box below. The first reader who gets it right wins a prize. Good luck!