Elegant fountain recalls waning days of horse and buggy

Humane Society Alliance Fountain

Sprinkled throughout the United States are five-ton granite fountains, remnants of a simpler time.

Between 1906 and 1912, the National Humane Alliance presented approximately 125 horse watering troughs to cities and towns across the country. The idea was to instill “ideas of humanity both to the lower animals and to each other,” according to Alliance founder Hermon Lee Ensign.

One such fountain still sits where it was originally placed in Abbeville, SC. Installed in 1912 in the town square, it was designed so that water flowed from regal lions’ mouths into a basin of polished Maine granite trimmed with bronze.

It was designed with an upper bowl, or trough, for horses to drink from and small cups at the bottom for cats and dogs. Birds could also use it, as could humans, who could drink the clean water as it came from the founts.

At least one community in each state in the Union, then composed of 48 states, was presented with a fountain, and at least two were placed in Mexico, as well. Fountains were presented to several cities in South Carolina, including two in Columbia and single fountains in Abbeville, Camden, Georgetown and Laurens.

The National Humane Alliance was established in 1897. Ensign, its founder, compiled a moderate fortune from advertising and several inventions in the newspaper business.

An individual with a lifelong affection for animals, Ensign had a deep appreciation for their welfare. The National Humane Alliance emphasized the education of people to be kind to one another and considerate of animals.

Detail from National Human Alliance fountain in Abbeville, SC.

Detail from National Human Alliance fountain in Abbeville, SC.

Ensign, who died in 1899, dedicated his fortune to the Alliance, which used the money to fund the granite fountain program.

While the fountains aren’t identical, there are many similarities.

The granite used in their construction was quarried in Maine and manufactured in the coastal Maine communities of Rockland and Vinalhavan. The large bowls are around six feet across. Most are about six feet tall.

They can be found across the country, from San Diego, Calif., to Houlton, Maine, and from Spokane, Wash., to Jacksonville, Fla.

At least 70 fountains still survive, with others likely forgotten in municipality storage.

Most have been moved from their original locations, which was often near city or town centers.

The irony in the National Humane Alliance’s well-intentioned investment was that as it was donating these beautiful fountains to towns and cities across the country, the need for them was drawing to a close.

The United States was rapidly becoming a nation of car enthusiasts, and it wouldn’t be too many years before individuals traveling to town by horse were an anomaly.

(Top: National Humane Alliance fountain, Abbeville, SC.)

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6 thoughts on “Elegant fountain recalls waning days of horse and buggy

  1. I love this! What a wonderful little bit of history- and background about the rise of humane societies. History and animals- both things that are close to my heart.

  2. A wonderful initiative, I’d not heard of. When Henry Rosenberg died here in Galveston in 1893, he left (among other bequests to the community) instructions for a series of similar fountains to be installed around the city, to provide water “for man and beast.” Several of them survive, including some that provided fresh water for dogs:

  3. I have seen such shared horse-and-person fountains, but never noticed if dogs were also accommodated–I may not have questioned/noticed a lower bowl’s presence. Glad to know now what they are for. How interesting, and kind!

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