City 'centerpiece' back in shape

Stone lions in the flow again as the restored Southgate Memorial Fountain to be rededicated

May 18, 2008|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,Special to The Sun

Water is flowing again from the lions' mouths on the Southgate Memorial Fountain in Annapolis.

Soot from decades of car exhaust has been cleaned from the English-style cross on the landmark honoring a 19th-century preacher who tried to help the underprivileged.

A new recirculation system within the fountain will save a million gallons of water from draining directly into the city's storm sewers each year.

Today, representatives of faith and government will gather around the restored limestone and granite fountain on Church Circle as they did in 1901, this time to rededicate it to Dr. William Scott Southgate and cement the fountain's place with other historic monuments in the state capital.

"It's part of the centerpiece of the city," Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said.

She will be one of the guest speakers at the 3 p.m. rededication ceremony, which will include music from the Church Circle Consort, the Annapolis Chorale, Annapolis Youth Chorus and choirs from St. Anne's Episcopal Church, St. Philip's Episcopal Church, Asbury Methodist Church and First Baptist Church.

City officials wanted the fountain to be completed this year in time for the 300th anniversary of Annapolis' charter. The total cost of the project is about $118,500, with $80,000 coming from the city and the rest coming from private donations and grants.

Alderman Richard Israel, who represents downtown, helped lead the Southgate Memorial Fountain Restoration Committee to raise nearly $26,000 in private funds.

"The importance is not only the stonework, it's celebrating the life of Dr. Southgate," Israel said. "He really reached beyond St. Anne's congregation."

Southgate was a beloved rector of St. Anne's Episcopal Church from 1869 until his death in 1899. The New England native 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 on Northwest Street, not far from St. Anne's.

Because Southgate came from a wealthy family, he didn't need to be paid by the board of the church. Therefore, he was more independent than previous rectors who felt beholden to Southern sympathizers within the parish, said the Rev. Robert Wickizer, interim rector for St. Anne's Parish. Southgate opened a mission school on the corner of Prince George and East streets, which subsequently served as a Jewish synagogue. He also set up other schools and worked to integrate the black and white communities. According to a parochial report from the late 1890s, St. Anne's Sunday school of 340 students was evenly split between blacks and whites, Wickizer said.

Southgate, an animal lover, wanted to erect a fountain to quench the thirst of passing animals - mostly the horses that drove the carts and carriages around town. When Southgate died, the community banded together to fulfill his dream.

"He was not only the priest in charge of St. Anne's, he was the padre of the town," wrote historian Evangeline Kaiser White in her 1957 book, The Years Between: A Chronicle of Annapolis, Md.,1800-1900.

Five churches, the Naval Academy Band and community residents all gave money to help build the fountain and showed up for the unveiling, city records show. A symbol of civic pride and unity, Southgate Fountain was dedicated the same year that the Annapolis post office opened on Church Circle.

The fountain largely became mere decoration only a decade or two later. Seven years after the fountain's dedication, Ford's Model T began rolling off production lines and started to crowd out horses from Annapolis' streets. Over the years, droughts and public pranks forced the city to turn off the water in the fountain. Teenagers had been known to dump soap into the water from time to time. The tap was turned off about seven years ago.

When city officials began looking at ways to spruce up the city's entryways for the 300th anniversary, the fountain made the list of proposed repairs as early as 2002. After funds were raised, construction work began in November.

Although the engraving is still hard to read and one of the lions is missing its lower jaw, conservationists were able to remove crusting caused by sulfur dioxide buildup from car exhaust, said Lily Openshaw, a civil engineer with the city Department of Public Works. Workers carefully cleaned the statue, replaced its mortar and repointed and resealed the stonework. They discovered the limestone cross was structurally weak, so they had to resecure the pinnings within the cross. The octagonal base was cleaned and repainted a shade of gray. An additional electrical line was run from the nearby state Senate Office Building to run the pump that would recirculate the water within the statue.

Nothing could be done about the damage from acid rain, which had worn down the engraving on the limestone cross, Openshaw said. The repairwork would have required anchoring additional stone, which could have weakened the cross, she said.

The water was turned on again in April.

Wickizer said Southgate's social consciousness lives on in the lives of his congregants at St. Anne's and other churches in the area.

"I think the spirit of Southgate remains," Wickizer said. "There is tremendous outreach."

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