Portland’s Drinking Fountains a Sidewalk Luxury

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Benson Bubbler drinking fountain in Portland (BS Photo)
Benson Bubbler drinking fountain in Portland (BS Photo)
Benson Bubbler drinking fountain in Portland (BS Photo)
Benson Bubbler drinking fountain in Portland. (Branden Klayko / Broken Sidewalk)

As the summer heats up, it’s easy to become a little parched as your out and about in the city and public water fountains can really save the day. Portland, Oregon sure thinks so. Seemingly everywhere in the city are one and four-spouted drinking fountains offering refreshment in downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.

Benson Bubbler drinking fountain in Portland (BS Photo)
Benson Bubbler drinking fountain in Portland. (Branden Klayko / Broken Sidewalk)

In 1912, businessman, philanthropist, and teetotaler Simon Benson funded the installation of the first twenty fountains in Portland. In his mind, the fountains would offer thirsty Stumptown lumber workers an alternative from the bar for midday refreshment. Today, there are 40 fountains throughout the city.

These Benson Bubblers are a source of pride in Portland and more than once on my last visit to the city, strangers approached me to demonstrate the proper use of the fountains (it seems there are a few styles). The preferred method is demonstrated in the photo above.

With so many perpetually-bubbling fountains in the city, one must wonder as to the amount of water being used. While the fountains originally ran around the clock, today they operate from 5:00 a.m. through 10:00 p.m. and have been equipped with flow-restriction devices to limit water usage. The large four-bowl models use about four gallons of water a minute. All 40 “Benson Bubblers use less than one tenth of one percent of Portland’s daily water demand.”

While Louisville has a few drinking fountains around town, is there room for increased public-hydration in the city’s public domain?

Branden Klayko

Founder and Editor at Broken Sidewalk
Branden is a writer and architectural designer living in Brooklyn. After graduating from the College of Architecture at Washington University in St. Louis, Branden practiced architecture in Louisville where he worked on several large LEED Certified buildings. Branden is the senior web editor at The Architect’s Newspaper, where he covers architecture, design, and urbanism. He has also written about design for Designers & Books, sustainability for Inhabitat, and architecture for the American Institute of Architects. He founded Broken Sidewalk in 2007, an online collaborative promoting architecture and urbanism in Louisville, Kentucky and the Midwest.

6 COMMENTS

  1. The climate here surely would dictate the need for more public water sources, however i dont see the city in their perpetual cash starved state of mind ever splurging on such a thing.

  2. Just two come to mind for me – both in the Highlands. There is one in the triangle where the Original Highlands sculpture is located at Winter and Baxter, and I can also recall one with a dog fountain attached just inside Cherokee Park near the Eastern Parkway entrance. I’m sure there are others though.

  3. Most of the Benson Bubblers in Portland are located downtown, I know Louisville has water fountains throughout the parks system but my question was actually whether any are located in our downtown, tho after rereading my comment I realize I did a poor job of making that clear :)

  4. I got excited when I saw the title, thinking this was an article about my home neighborhood, but alas, it was not to be. Fountains downtown would be great though

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