W.C.T.U. Fountain

Location: Reno City, Nevada, USA

On October 17, 1908, a drinking fountain commissioned by the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the American Red Cross was dedicated to the veterans of the Spanish-American War. It was erected at the southwest corner of Plaza and North Virginia Streets in Reno.

The Temperance movement which began in the early 19th century advocated moderation in alcohol consumption. The belief that alcohol was responsible for many of society’s ills made this social movement popular, and in 1904 the National Woman’s Christian Temperance Union encouraged local chapters to erect fresh water fountains in public venues. The strategy of offering a free source of water (and thereby quenching ‘the thirst of all of God’s creatures’) to men, their horses and dogs had the intention of refraining men from entering saloons.

The fourteen-foot cast iron drinking fountain stood on a square plinth with gable ends. Four panels were available for dedication: Presented To / The City Of Reno By The W.C.T.U. / And Red Cross Society / In Memory Of / The Nevada Volunteers.

An acroter supports a square pedestal with decorative frieze. Four panels with triangular arches on each side offer further space for memorial. Crossed swords, with the number 1, visible on two sides represent the First Calvary Volunteers of Nevada, which fought in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War of 1898. The Red Cross symbol, displayed in the two remaining panels, honors the organization’s work in caring for wounded veterans.

A fluted column with attic base and volute contains two consoles with round glass globes. The finial is a third glass globe. The water trough for horses is located beneath a Red Cross symbol. There are two basins for human consumption; each is mounted beneath a panel containing the symbol of crossed swords. A demilune basin at ground level for dogs is also visible.

The structure was removed from the original site in 1932 to be replaced with a Flying A gasoline station. The fountain was relocated to the front of the California Building in Idlewild Park where it’s only use was as a receptacle for garbage.

In 2003, the Reno City Council provided funding for restoration of the fountain and the relocation of the fountain to the Amtrak train station. After four years of restoration under the leadership of Neal Cobb and David Hollecker, it was rededicated and can now be found in the waiting room at the track level of the station. A wall display offers information and photographs of the fountain, the Temperance movement and historic images of the Southern Pacific railway station.

Glossary:

  • Acroter, flat base
  • Attic base, a column base with two rings
  • Console, a decorative bracket support element
  • Finial, a sculptured ornament fixed to the top of a peak, arch, gable or similar structure
  • Frieze, the horizontal part of a classical moulding just below the cornice, often decorated with carvings
  • Pedestal, an architectural support for a column or statue
  • Plinth, flat base usually projecting, upon which a pedestal, wall or column rests.
  • Volute, a spiral scroll-like ornament found in the capital of a column
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