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The Fort Nelson Park fountain has been spotted exposed to the elements at Metro Archives. (Courtesy Tipster)
The Fort Nelson Park fountain has been spotted exposed to the elements at Metro Archives. (Courtesy Tipster)

In February, we took an in-depth look at the history of Fort Nelson and the small parcel of land at Seventh Street and West Main Street that is today Fort Nelson Park. During that investigation, we discussed the old fountain, which was removed one year ago this month.

As we noted then, the Fort Nelson Park is no ordinary fountain: it’s one of several fountains that adorned the Southern Exposition in the 1880s and before that served as a landscape bauble for the Robinson-DuPont Mansion in Old Louisville:

The cast-iron fountain was forged in the 1870s for a sprawling estate south of the city built by Reverend Stuart Robinson, and later occupied by the DuPonts. In 1883, the land was developed into the Southern Exposition, where fountains anchored four corners of the Victorian world’s fair. After the fair, the Exposition grounds became St. James Court and Central Park.

Later, two of the fountains were relocated to the old courthouse, now Metro Hall, on Jefferson Street. A 1925 photograph of the courthouse shows the fountain on the corner of Jefferson Street and Sixth Street. At some point in the 20th century, the county decided to remove the fountains entirely from the courthouse and one was lost to the scrap yard, according to architect and former urban planner Charles Cash. He told Broken Sidewalk the other was rescued by Carol Swanson, who displayed the fountain in her garden on Upper River Road, where it resided until being relocated to Fort Nelson Park in the early 90s. “The city restored it as the centerpiece of the garden,” Cash said. “The cast-iron fountain fit well with the cast-iron district.”

The fountain in front of the Robinson-DuPont mansion in Old Louisville. (Courtesy Old Louisville)
The fountain in front of the Robinson-DuPont mansion in Old Louisville. (Courtesy Old Louisville)

In February, Jessica Wethington, Public Information Specialist at Metro Louisville Planning & Design Services, told us that “the fountain is currently stored safely at Seventh Street and Industry Road until repairs can be made.” A tipster spotted the fountain sitting just where Wethington described and sent in the above photo.

We checked in with Wethington to get the latest on the fountain. “The fountain is [still] in storage,” she said. “The restoration and relocation of the fountain is likely to be something that will be discussed by the community conversations building committee.”

(Chris B / Flickr)
(Chris B / Flickr)

She was referring to a meeting the city announced in September to be led by Historic Preservation Officer Cynthia Johnson. The meeting was arranged in response to community outcry over placing the old Water Company Headquarters Building‘s facade in storage following a pending demolition to make way for the Omni Hotel & Residences.

No official date has been set for the meeting, but Wethington said the city is aiming for sometime in mid-November. Those interested in participating in the work group should contact Johnson at 502-574-2868 or Cynthia.Johnson@louisvilleky.gov. Learn more about building pieces put in storage here.

(Branden Klayko / Broken Sidewalk)
(Branden Klayko / Broken Sidewalk)

Meanwhile at Fort Nelson Park, it sounds like a Japanese maple tree planted in the fountain’s place last October will have time to mature if the fountain is, in fact, to be relocated. “The group will discuss budget, restoration, and relocation of the fountain,” Wethington said. “However, this will not be on the agenda for the initial meeting.”

While a plan is finalized for the fountain and until restoration can begin, how about we at least move the 145-year-old, cast-iron fountain out of the elements where it currently sits, rusting.

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Branden Klayko

Branden Klayko

Founder and Editor at Broken Sidewalk
Branden founded Broken Sidewalk in 2008 while practicing architecture in Louisville. He continued the site for seven years while living in New York City, returning to Louisville in 2016. Branden is a graduate of the College of Architecture at Washington University in St. Louis, and has covered architecture, design, and urbanism for The Architect's Newspaper, Designers & Books, Inhabitat, and the American Institute of Architects.
Branden Klayko

8 COMMENTS

  1. So this might be a dumb question if there’s something about cast iron I don’t know (likely), but as an outdoor fountain shouldn’t it be pretty much fine to store it outdoors?

  2. Thanks Brandon. Many talented people, including former staff members of Landmarks gave many hours to the park’s design, including the bus shelter and cast iron columns.
    Moisture and cast iron equals rust and deterioration. This administrations penchant for leaving our history out in the rain makes this discovery unsurprising. Conversations may or may not save buildings. The West Main historic district is a national treasure. The Southern Exposition was a VeryBigDeal. The very least you can do is protect the fountain until that meeting someday that may or may not discuss putting it back where the public can again enjoy it.
    Like facades and Derby clocks…………….

  3. In regard to the poster’s question regarding cast iron being exposed to weather. They are correct in their thinking that cast iron can be placed outside unprotected. But, it begins to deteriorate as it is exposed to moisture. If this fountain were a new casting, no big deal, but it’s old cast iron, meaning, it’s been around for many, many years. Most likely it’s thin and getting thinner as the years of exposure and temperature attack it.

  4. A quick fix for protection would be to have a Bobcat loader with forks and a webbing strap, pick up each piece, lay a few 2″ X 4″ “sleepers” on the ground, rest each piece on the wood, elevating and separating it from the ground surface. Next, wrap each piece with an all weather tarp, much like the ones available at Lowes or Home Depot. Secure the tarps with a few pieces of nylon rope. This minimum amount of work would ensure that the cast iron would no longer be wetted by rain, snow or ice.

  5. How about sending it out for restoration and let all that subsidy money to Omni (a city block gone) Kindred (ditto), Bristol (another city block gone) pay for it.
    Or keep doing as our feckless leader and his twin Lurches do and simply toss it into a dumpster.

  6. Does anybody know what was wrong with the fountain in the 1st place? I’m sure whatever it was is only getting worse sitting outside with all the exposure to the elements. We all know that once something is put in “Storage” they never seem to reappear. Just look at the recent article posted here about building façades that were supposedly saved for future use and instead are just setting in a field surrounded by weeds!

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