Fountain comes down, revealing hidden fix

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 29, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; The baby doll head sat on top of the Memorial Park fountain for close to 10 years.

It was put there to replace the missing head of one of the three cherubs dancing atop the Natchez landmark, waiting for the day when it and many other pieces could finally be restored.

That day came Monday morning, as crews carefully took apart the 19th century fountain piece by piece to carry it to Alexander City, Ala., to receive a makeover.

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&8220;It is a very unique fountain,&8221; Luke Robinson from Robinson Iron said Monday morning. &8220;The statue on top is unlike any I have ever seen.&8221;

Robinson hopes to take it and the rest of the fountain back to his shop in Alexander City, Ala., to clean, repair and repaint the fountain.

And when it returns not only will the statue have a new head, but the entire fountain will be covered with cherubs that will replace the original ones that spouted water and danced around the structure.

&8220;We want it to be the same fountain that was in Natchez in the late 1800s,&8221; Robinson said.

In 1993, Kathie Blankenstein, along with four other residents, formed a volunteer committee to oversee the restoration of the fountain.

The cast iron Natchez landmark had rusted and fallen into disrepair. It was lacking the statuary that many residents remembered from their childhood.

Birthday parties, lunches, playing around, church gatherings &8212; the fountain had become a focal point in the lives of many Natchez residents.

&8220;The fountain was central to just so many things,&8221; Blankenstein said. &8220;It had been a gathering place forever, for everybody.&8221;

With the help of the committee and other residents, a grassroots effort was formed.

&8220;We put out all kinds of stuff. We put ads and pictures in the paper,&8221; Blankenstein recalled.

&8220;With the first donations we bought four statues from Robinson Iron.

&8220;We put signs on them asking for donations to take them back to the park.&8221;

Twelve years and thousands of dollars later, the four statues will finally have a home when the fountain restoration is complete.

&8220;There are so many people who were instrumental in getting the money for this project,&8221; said Mimi Miller, director of the Historic Natchez Foundation. The foundation collected the donations for the fountain over the last 12 years.

According to Miller, among those who were instrumental were Gina Buckley, Debbie Stewart and the Natchez Downtown Development Association that sponsored several Arts in the Park fundraisers each summer.

&8220;Judy Stone sent the foundation $10 a month for years for the fountain restoration,&8221; Miller said.

Others that were pivotal were Buzz Harper, the late Virginia Cook and all those who gave small donations over the last 15 years, Miller said.

&8220;But if the project belongs to anyone, it belongs to Kathie,&8221; Miller said.

Along with volunteer work to get donations, Blankenstein helped get a $15,000 grant from the Colonial Dames.

&8220;I said I just wanted to live to see that fountain restored,&8221; Blankenstein said. &8220;And it looks like I will.&8221;