Memorial Park fountain reinstalled

Published 11:10 am Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A monumental cast iron fountain that had graced the center of Memorial Park for 100 years but had fallen into disrepair is now standing like new — thanks to the efforts of a fundraising campaign that began almost 15 years ago.

Workers from Robinson Iron of Alexander City, Ala., installed the elaborate fountain and its unique statuary Tuesday, carefully lifting the huge base, bowl and other pieces into place in about seven hours.

With help from Natchez Water Works, the fountain may be flowing again today. “We’ll do whatever we can to get it going,” said David Gardner, superintendent of Natchez Water Works.

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A small group watched the fountain come together while chatting about memories — some, childhood memories of visits to the fountain; others, memories of the fundraisers held for many years at the park to raise money for the project.

Burnley Cook recalled holiday meals at the home of his grandmother only a block away. Memorial Park is behind St. Mary Basilica at the corner of Main and Rankin streets.

“This is wonderful,” Cook said. “I remember as a kid on Thanksgiving and Christmas, all the adults would talk politics or something after dinner and my grandmother would give us bread to come feed the goldfish.”

Cook’s mother, Virginia Cook, was a faithful donor to the fountain restoration fund for many years, as was Joe Stone’s mother, Judy Stone.

“Judy used to send $10 a month every month,” said Kathie Blankenstein, one of the organizers of the fundraising efforts in 1993 through the Historic Natchez Foundation.

Joe Stone watched with satisfaction as the fountain, with fresh paint and newly restored architectural motifs, took shape.

“We used to come here as children,” he said. “We’d go to Jitney Jungle across the street to get crackers to feed the fish.”

For Gina Buckley and Debbie Stewart, the memories were all about Arts in the Park, an annual event they organized in 1994 to raise money not only for the fountain but also for other items, including benches, to enhance the beauty and comfort of the park.

“Arts in the Park raised more than $23,000 for work on the fountain,” said Buckley, a volunteer with the Pilgrimage Garden Club beautification committee.

As workers applied caulking between the base and the huge bowl to make the connection water tight, Luke Robinson, sales manager and grandson of the founder of the iron company, talked about the project and the satisfaction of seeing it come together for Natchez.

“About 25 to 35 percent of the fountain is new stuff,” Robinson said. “The rest is totally used from the original pieces.”

Robinson workers sandblasted the pieces down to the bare metal to make sure it was still usable. “Then we applied a zinc primer and then an epoxy primer. Then we finished with the Charleston green pain.”

He admitted the name Charleston might also be Natchez because the color is close to the black-green color known as Natchez green. “We just give names to colors based on the first place we use them,” he said.

The 7,500-pound fountain required very detailed work, including the recreation from photographs of some pieces of statuary, such as the swans.

“It is going to be eerily accurate to what was put there originally,” Robinson said.

The original fountain, a gift to the city from the Natchez Water & Sewer Co., was completed in 1889, as reported in a newspaper item in June of that year, “The fountain is complete except for one figure to be placed on the base.”

Other contributors to the fundraising for the fountain restoration include Colonial Dames of America in the State of Mississippi. Mimi Bornman was at the park to represent that organization, which donated $15,000 to the project.

Natchez banks, the City of Natchez, the Natchez Garden Club and the Natchez Art Association were among other sponsors who raised funds for the fountain restoration.