The equine former fountain is at a crossroads - to stay. Finally.
It has survived nature's elements, wayward snowplows and a homemade bomb-not to mention the playful, late-night annual decorations of Dalhousie University's Yarmouth, NS, nursing grads.
Throw in a history of traffic studies and proposals from Yarmouth Town Council to move the Horse Fountain-for public safety's sake-and it's a wonder the golden stallion is still proudly prancing atop its pedestal at "Five Corners:" the confluence of Vancouver, Water, Main and Chestnut streets in Yarmouth's north-end suburb of Milton. All is now quiet on the relocation front, thanks to the installation of a set of traffic lights.
If the oft-proposed relocation had happened, it would have been a sorry thing for Yarmouth. This is not just another pretty fountain like the Trevi in Rome or the one at Versailles-since the late 19th century it has been the centerpiece of a community, a focal point of area pride.
The landmark once provided a valuable service: its multiple fonts flowed with fresh water for both animals and people. The fountain's panelled iron walls contain two large bowls that horses and cattle would drink from; two smaller bowls for humans, with drinking vessels attached by chains; and four lower fonts for sheep, goats, dogs and cats. The water ran freely from the mouths of cast fish and gargoyles as it flowed from nearby Lake George. Today, the monument is dry except for the watering of flowers that bloom from the bowls and fonts.
The fountain remains a 15-foot-high statue of iron and bronze atop a granite pedestal. It was built by Jordan L Mott Ironworks Manufacturing, a once-flourishing company along the banks of the Harlem River in New York City's Bronx borough. Mott designed and produced the fountain at the request of Yarmouth philanthropist Clara Killam, a descendant of wealthy shipbuilder and ship owner John Killam.
Its origin is noteworthy to collectors of upscale antique bathroom fixtures, who are always on the hunt for JL Mott's Imperial Porcelain imprint-no mass-production company in America manufactured finer lines of plumbing and bathroom items. Mott sold bathtubs to the White House in the 1900s; today a Mott-branded Descendo toilet or Layton clawfoot bathtub will fetch upwards of $1,600. The company's wide range of cast iron products also included coal-burning stoves, refrigeration systems, mechanical printing presses, furniture and manhole covers.
A resident and long-time member of the Milton Improvement Society (which remains active to this day), Clara Killam is believed to have walked the area imagining just such a fountain, possibly after seeing ones like it in New York City, or another American city, where such structures were common. Those were the days when buggy and cart horses were vital to community life, making watering places as necessary as today's gas stations. In some cities, horse troughs were as common as lamp posts.
At that time it was trendy for philanthropic types to demonstrate their public-mindedness with such acquisitions. New York's Central Park got its first ornamental horse fountain in 1860, the refurbished version of which still stands in the Cherry Hill section of the park today.
The Milton Fountain is one of three that once graced Yarmouth streets. The South End Fountain may have been produced by Mott as well, and although not as grand, it has like its Milton cousin managed to survive throughout the years. The Forest Street Fountain disappeared in the early 1940s after being struck by a car-it was apparently the target of more than one drunk driver-and was sent to a foundry for repairs. Town of Yarmouth Heritage Officer Linda Campbell says no one seems to know what happened to the font after that.
For its part the Milton Fountain was badly damaged on February 5, 1961, when a public works snowplow, clearing a path for access to the nearby community hospital, struck it, sending the horse crashing to the ground. The pieces were moved to the roadside, and believed to be destined for the town dump. However, during a town council meeting the next night, the town engineer tabled a motion to collect the pieces and find a way to repair the structure. Craftsmen at the Lunenburg Foundry were hired and managed to put all the pieces together again with steel plates and hundreds of stainless steel screws. The rebuilding of the statue also involved moving it 50 feet from its original position, and turning it from its northward orientation to face east.
Yarmouth residents are happy their equine monument will remain in its rightful place at Five Corners. Milton Improvement Society president Carol Weir says the relocation of "the poor old horse" has been talked about for years, but it's finally a dead issue thanks to a community petition circulated by her predecessor.
Weir, a retired nurse, confesses to having decorated the Horse Fountain on the night she graduated several decades ago. Having lived in Yarmouth for 40 years, she became Improvement Society president by "process of elimination," she says, after 20 years in the organization. She believes strongly in the understated work they do in the community, which includes advocacy for the fountain, local beautification projects and motivating the youngsters at nearby Meadowfields Elementary School to respect their community.
Students plant bulbs in the fall-looking forward to spring blooms-and participate in Arbour Day tree-planting festivities. "People need to take pride in the community and in themselves," Weir says.
The society also plans the routine maintenance of the Horse Fountain, but most of the hands-on effort and funding comes from the Town of Yarmouth. Weir says that without the town's help-in particular veteran Parks and Grounds Supervisor Lorne Cushing-the work would not get done. "He does a fabulous job."
Although the statue is no longer a watery pit stop for travellers, both Weir and Cushing tell the same story about another job the fountain does these days: as a central landmark, it's integral to giving visitors directions to the downtown, to Cape Forchu Lighthouse and the hospital.
"You can't miss the Golden Horse. When you get there, turn left to go here, turn right to go there, head straight for that place..." and that most dreaded wayfinding moment-especially for the male half of the species: "If you reach the Golden Horse, you've gone too far."