A long-overdue renovation planned for a neglected Annapolis landmark

A wellspring of city history to flow again

March 07, 2007|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,Sun reporter

For decades, pedestrians and drivers passing Church Circle have hardly noticed the slender cross atop a shallow octagonal base, except as a traffic island.

Now the city of Annapolis is giving Southgate Fountain a second chance in its second century - before it crumbles in plain sight.

Using city and grant funds, the city will spend about $100,000 restoring the 1901 fountain to make it shine for the Charter 300 celebration, marking the tricentennial of Annapolis' charter, said Donna C. Hole, the city's chief of historic preservation.

"This step is long-awaited for a very special site and memorial," Hole said. "It's especially appropriate as Annapolis approaches its 300th birthday."

No date has been set for turning the water back on after a long dry spell. But Hole said finishing the project in time for next year's celebration is key because the fountain is named for a major figure in city history.

William Scott Southgate was a beloved Episcopal rector of St. Anne's Parish from 1869 until his death in 1899. He was considered one of the healers of the post-Civil War era, known for reaching out to the newly emancipated former slaves to establish a separate parish, St. Philip's Episcopal Church, not far from St. Anne's.

"He was a concerned and caring individual," Hole said. The fountain, she said, was meant to be a place of refreshment for "man and beast, horses and mules drawing carts."

Five churches, the Naval Academy Band and community residents all gave money to help build the fountain, city records show, an outpouring that has seldom been matched.

A symbol of civic pride and unity, Southgate Fountain was dedicated the same year that the neighboring downtown post office opened. Less than a lifetime after the war left the city in shambles, the sculptural monument and the municipal building signaled that the state capital had entered a new era.

According to city records, all sectors of the town showed up at the fountain dedication. Along with Episcopal clergy, ministers from other denominations, the Naval Academy Band, residents and public officials attended the unveiling of the public art, designed by T. Henry Randall.

Its inscription paying tribute to "a noble life" has since faded, and the original white granite and marble have dulled to shades of gray. And its original purpose - to hold water for passing animals - dried up within a decade or two of its design.

Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said yesterday that work will begin next month, after the General Assembly session ends. "We have to do spring cleaning with city fixtures," she said.

The effort will involve more than cleaning dirt and layers of soot off the granite and marble, the mayor said.

"We need to dig up the road for an archaeology survey to see if we find any old [St. Anne's churchyard] graves," Moyer said.

The environmental impact will be limited by recirculating the water in the fountain, she said.

"I don't think we'll have horses drinking out of it," Moyer said with a laugh. "Times have changed."

Still, Southgate's place in society's memory still surfaces.

The Rev. Bob Wickizer, the acting rector of St. Anne's Parish, said an Annapolis resident recently brought over two confirmation certificates and a marriage license, signed by Southgate, that were found in an old bookcase.

Wickizer said he plans to put them in the archives. "It's really cool to find those things," he said

jamie.stiehm@baltsun.com

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