Watertown's Public Square fountain will undergo repairs

Feb. 11—WATERTOWN — A constant in the center of downtown since 1870, the Public Square fountain will be gone for some time this summer.

The fountain, located on the west side of Public Square's grassy median, will be dismantled this summer for a complete restoration project, the first in many years.

The project is part of the city's $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative funding awarded seven years ago.

The city set aside $55,000 in DRI funds to complete repairs to the fountain, surrounded by a wrought-iron fence. But that was before Crawford & Stearns Architect and Preservation Planners completed an inspection of the fountain last summer that found much more work needs to be done.

The fountain's iron works will be dismantled, sent off for complete restoration and brought back once the redo is completed, senior planner Jennifer Voss said.

The iron work will be sandblasted and repaired off site, she said.

"It'll be gone for a period of time this summer," she said.

Bids will be going out within a month to find a company to complete the restoration.

Michael A. Lumbis, the city's planning and community renewal director, said the gravity-fed fountain has a long history beginning with an earlier fountain design that caused a flap.

The fountain in the middle of the Square was the brainchild of a local councilman.

Local newspaper editor Benjamin Cory paid for its installation.

But some people complained it was a waste of money, Lumbis said. They dubbed it "Cory's punch bowl, a reference to its masonry basin.

In 1870, a more elaborate fountain was erected on the site that still stands today. The fountain was manufactured by the Wood & Perot Foundry in Philadelphia, Pa.

It might be the only cast iron fountain like it that's still in existence in the state.

The fountain sits in the middle of a limestone basin that has a 40-foot diameter. Decorated with four lions underneath its pool, the fountain itself uses gravity for the water to cascade into a series of basins of varying sizes until it ends up in the limestone bowl at its bottom.

Years ago, city officials nicknamed the woman atop the fountain "Hebe" after the Greek goddess of the same name.

Over the years, the fountain was known for residents periodically climbing into the basin to cool off and has undergone annual maintenance repairs.

The fountain isn't the only nearby downtown public art that's been redone in the past several months. Around the corner, the site of the Gov. Roswell P. Flower Monument underwent major improvements and Lachenauer Plaza down the street was completely overhauled. And a new sculpture will be unveiled later this year on the east side of the Public Square median.

The Public Square fountain also has endured a series of mishaps.

The most well known case occurred in 1960 when a group of Long Island firefighters in town for a convention knocked down the statue, breaking it, Lumbis said.

Although it's not known how much damage it had incurred, employees at New York Air Brake restored it that year. The year before, the fountain also was damaged by a car hitting it.

Voss remembered hearing about an instance about 20 years ago when the fountain was felled by an intoxicated person who jumped on it.

An Alabama company took the fountain apart and then restored, recast and reinstalled it. The bowl and cement support beams were replaced during a major Public Square street construction project the summer before.

That was the last time the fountain went through such a major repairs.

Until now.