Starkweather Fountain

Location: Ypsilanti, Michigan, USA

When water mains were installed in the city of Ypsilanti in 1889, Mrs. Mary Ann (Newberry) Starkweather donated an elaborate drinking fountain which was erected on the southeast corner of Huron & Congress outside the Ypsilanti Savings Bank (now City Hall).

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Source: Ypsilanti Historical Society

The 12ft. 6ins. tall fountain manufactured by J. L. Mott Iron Works of New York was seated on an octagonal granite plinth. The base consisted of a single octagonal pedestal with attic base and canted corners.

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Eight arched cornices contained dolphin mascarons which are symbolic of guardians of water. On the east and west sides, mascarons spouted water into demi-lune basins for human consumption. Drinking cups were suspended by chains. Horses drank from two large demi-lune fluted troughs on the north and south sides. Overflow water fed basins at ground level for the refreshment of small animals. A plaque between the dog troughs was inscribed with the maker’s name, The J.L. Mott/Iron Wks. N.Y.

An attic base supported a short square column containing 4 inset panels bounded by pilasters. Within the panels, 3 cartouches contained bas-relief and a fourth cartouche offered an engraved plaque. The capital supported a five feet tall bronze statue of a Greek goddess standing contrapposto. The figure of Hebe classically dressed in flowing robes was sculpted by Bertel Thorvaldsen. She is the daughter of Zeus and Hera, the goddess of Youth and Spring, and cup bearer of the Gods. She gazes at the cup of immortality as she raises it with her left hand. A jug is held with a lowered right hand beside her thigh.

In April 1932 the fountain was dismantled for repair, with the intention of placing it in the park behind Ladies Library. However, it was put into storage (possibly due to a new awareness of sanitation). In 1935, the short column and statue were detached from the fountain structure, and erected at the entrance to Tourist Park on Catherine Street.

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There are numerous unsubstantiated tales regarding the fate of the separated fountain base and statue which have been lost for decades. One of the most likely is the requisition and destruction of ornamental iron decorations as raw material for the war industries.

Glossary

  • Attic base, a column base with two rings
  • Bas-relief, sculpted material that has been raised from the background to create a slight projection from the surface
  • Canted corner, an angled surface which cuts of a corner
  • Capital, the top of a column that supports the load bearing down on it
  • Cartouche, a structure or figure, often in the shape of an oval shield or oblong scroll, used as an architectural or graphic ornament or to bear a design or inscription.
  • Contrapposto, stance where one leg bears the weight and the other leg is relaxed
  • Cornice, a molding or ornamentation that projects from the top of a building
  • Demi-lune, half moon or crescent shape
  • Fluted, a long rounded groove
  • Mascaron, a decorative element in the form of a sculpted face or head of a human being or an animal
  • Pedestal, an architectural support for a column or statue
  • Pilaster, a column form that is only ornamental and not supporting a structure
  • Plinth, flat base usually projecting, upon which a pedestal, wall or column rests

 

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