ST. ALBANS CITY — Wearing a “Save the Ladies” t-shirt, Scott Howell of Robinson Iron in Alabama returned to St. Albans City Thursday with a refurbished and restored Taylor Park fountain.
Workmen began installing it around 7:30 a.m. and finished roughly eight hours later.
The ladies themselves, travelled 1,100 miles over two days on their return trip to St. Albans.
Donated by Gov. John Gregory Smith in 1887, the fountain was one of hundreds made by the J.W. Fiske Company, of which only a handful remain. Robinson Iron, which owns the original molds used to cast the fountain, has restored three of the Fiske fountains, including this one. St. Albans, said Howell, received the deluxe model.
The fountain, a centerpiece for the city and its downtown, had been absent from the park since Sept. 24 of last year.
The center of the fountain, the column, two bowls and decorations on the bowls were cast in iron. The statues were made of zinc and soldered with lead. “It’s that lead solder which is failing,” said Howell, explaining it’s happening to other fountains around the country made the same way.
“They’re really sort of crumbling and there’s not a good way to repair them long term,” he said.
The statues were recast in aluminum, and the originals were returned. The original water nymph from the top was in such disrepair Robinson Iron had to shore her up with metal plates.
The replacement nymph was cast in 250 to 300 separate pieces, which had to be reassembled like a 3-D jigsaw puzzle, explained Howell. Having the original nymph to work from was like having the photo on the puzzle box to serve as a guide.
The new nymph is gleaming, and the shift from the matte green paint to black with a verdigris highlight coat brings out details previously hard to see such as the seashell necklace on the nymph and leaf designs around the edges of the bowls.
Also recast were the iron sections on which the maidens sit. A plaque stating the fountain was a gift from Smith was also cleaned and restored.
Howell believes one of the advantages of this fountain, as opposed to simple water jets, is that “it’s gorgeous” even when the water isn’t flowing.
Throughout the day people stopped by to take pictures, admire the fountain, and, in the case of students from the Northwest Technical Center, speak with those doing the work.
First in place was the center column at the base of the fountain, followed by the lower bowl and then a section of the column with the cherubs and the small bowl already assembled. That’s one the fun began, as the plumbing and electricity between the sections needed to be installed and connected.
At one point, Brandon Grant of Robinson Iron was standing in the smaller bowl while it was suspended on a crane. He was wearing a harness as he worked to install plumbing lines.
Also on hand was Brian Burns of the city’s public works department. This is the second time Burns has helped to reinstall the fountain. It was taken down and transported to Barre where it was stripped, cleaned and repainted, according to Burns. “Through the years, we’ve done a lot of maintenance on it,” he said.
Burns prefers the fountains new color. “It looks great,” he said.
The water nymph, too, took some time to plumb. Water will flow from the urn held by the nymph and the reeds behind her into the first bowl. From there it will flow out the mouths of the lions to the second bowl and then into the pool.
The pool was resurfaced with exposed aggregate and remains at the same depth as when the fountain was taken down last year for repairs, explained Meghan Manahan, a member of the fountain restoration committee. Manahan is a member of the Rotary Club of St. Albans, which took on the task of raising the funds necessary to repair the fountain.
The final cost of the project was just shy of $300,000, with more than half of the money going into work on the site and the water circulation system. In addition to the pool repairs, a new walkway and pump house were installed. With the new pumps, the water will recirculate from the pool back up through the fountain.
Matt Tabor of RMB Excavating did the site work, donating some portions of the task, and was on site yesterday to assist with the installation. “He was great to work with and he definitely made it doable for us,” said Manahan.
Local contractor Richard Cummings, free of charge, supplied the crane used to move the pieces into place.
Once the plumbing and lighting were finished, the installation of the maidens and the bases on which they sit went smoothly.
“I had to save the ladies,” said Howell, who clearly has a passion for old fountains. “I was delighted to save the ladies.”
The fountain’s new water works will be activated for the first time during a special ceremony beginning at noon Saturday.