The Temperance Fountain

The Temperance Fountain

One of the last remaining Temperance Fountains, an ornate reminder of an outdated and failed social movement, can still be found in D.C.   Originally located downtown at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 7th Street, it was moved to its present location in 1987 during the renewal by the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation.  The fountain currently sits at the corner of Seventh Street and Indiana Avenue in northwest D.C. (MAP), across from the National Archives Building and U.S. Navy Memorial, where thousands of tourists and workers walk past daily without noticing it.

It was erected and donated to the city in 1882 by Henry D. Cogswell, a dentist from San Francisco, who was a crusader in the temperance movement.  The fountain was one of a series of fountains throughout the country that he designed and commissioned in a belief that easy access to cool drinking water would keep people from consuming alcoholic beverages in one of the many nearby saloons.

The fountain is an elaborate structure built of granite that Dr. Cogswell designed himself.  It has four granite columns supporting a canopy on whose sides the words “Faith,” “Hope,” “Charity,” and “Temperance” are chiseled.  On top of the structure is a life-sized heron, and the centerpiece is a pair of entwined dolphins from which ice water once flowed from their snouts.  Other fountains he designed were adorned with frogs, pigeons, sea serpents, horses, and gargoyles.  A few even sported a bronze statue of Dr. Cogswell himself, with a water glass or temperance pledge in his outstretched hand.  Passersby could partake using a brass cup attached to the fountain, and the overflow was collected by a trough for horses to drink.  The city got tired of replenishing the ice in a reservoir underneath the base and disconnected the water supply pipes many years ago.  Today it remains as a non-functional memorial to the defunct temperance movement.

These grandiose statues were not well received by the communities where they were placed.  The fountain in San Francisco was torn down by a mob of self-professed art lovers, while the one in Rockville, Connecticut, was thrown into a lake. Although the Temperance Fountain in D.C. remains unscathed, it was considered so ugly by so many that it spurred city councils across the country to set up fine arts commissions to screen such gifts in the future.  However, despite the opposition, the D.C. statue has been placed on the Downtown Historic District National Register, as well as U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Dr. Cogswell built similar monuments which can still be found in Tompkins Square Park in New York City, and in Rockville, Connecticut.  Other examples were erected and then torn down in Buffalo, Rochester, Boston Common, Fall River, Massachusetts, and Pacific Grove, San Jose and San Francisco, California.

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