Funds may flow for restoration of 1901 fountain in Annapolis

The mayor will propose fixing up the Church Circle landmark.

April 10, 2005|By JAMIE STIEHM | JAMIE STIEHM,SUN STAFF

It's as decrepit as a piece of 1901 public art can get in the middle of a pristine state capital - a fountain designed as a horse trough just before the Automobile Age rode into town.

"Not exactly presentable," Marie Dingle, a postal employee who sees it outside the window at her office, said in passing. "It should definitely get cleaned up."

In an attempt to revivify the aged Southgate fountain on Church Circle in Annapolis, Mayor Ellen O. Moyer will propose restoration plans tomorrow in her state of the city address to the city council. The estimated cost of the project is about $100,000, and the work may be completed this year.

Neither entirely religious nor civic, the memorial fountain stands about one story high and consists of a slender cross atop a shallow octagonal pool. The original white granite and marble have long faded to shades of gray. It's barely noticed as a neighbor to the governor's mansion and garden, the downtown post office, and St. Anne's Episcopal Church - except perhaps as a traffic hazard.

On a busy Friday at lunchtime, not one pedestrian surveyed on the circle knew the first thing about the fountain's history - that it's named for a prominent Annapolis clergyman who died in 1899. The Rev. William Scott Southgate helped his St. Anne's parishioners and other citizens move beyond the tumult of the Civil War, and for years presided at baptisms, weddings, services and funerals.

"I have no clue, and I walk by here fairly frequently, like twice a day," said Carville Collins, a lobbyist walking with a friend, Drew Cobbs, toward Main Street.

Collins and Cobbs said they had never noticed the faded inscription, which declares that the fountain is intended to "keep in remembrance a noble life."

Five churches, the U.S. Naval Academy Band, and dozens of residents gave money to build the fountain, city records show. The Episcopal minister also aided some freed slaves in founding St. Philip's Episcopal Church not far from St. Anne's.

Moyer said last summer's installation of brick sidewalks on Church Circle served as a natural prelude to restoration of a fountain at a visible public crossroads.

The mayor recalled a near-death knell for the fountain when it was turned off several years ago during a summer drought because it consumed 1 million gallons of water a year.

"We are going to work on re-circulation of the water," Moyer said. "We'd like to have soft light around it at night."

Moyer said that an intern's research into the fountain's history had given it more meaning to her.

"There are wonderful [archive] pictures where you see that horses could drink water," she said. "This is a landmark, and landmarks need to be taken care of."

Dingle, the postal employee, said she could imagine sitting on the fountain during her lunch hour if it were restored.

While many passers-by said the Southgate fountain had seen better days, Bernie Stehle, a banker, said the relic in its current condition possessed a certain charm for him. "That's the antique feel of the community," he said.

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