ST. ALBANS — Hundreds of people counted down, six-year-old Thomas Garceau flipped the switch, and the water – didn’t flow.
As the crowd was forewarned, it took nearly a minute for the water pressure to build up Saturday when the Taylor Park fountain was turned on, but when it did water flowed once again in the 128-year-old fountain.
“Our ladies are back, better than ever,” proclaimed Mayor Liz Gamache at the rededication ceremony, which included speeches, free food and a prime opportunity for kids to dip their fingers into the water.
The water was turned off several years ago as the zinc statues began to deteriorate. Last September the fountain was dismantled and transported to Robinson Iron’s workshop in Alabama where new statues were cast in aluminum and the iron columns and bowls at the center of the fountain were restored.
This weekend the ladies returned, with new paint, new plumbing and new lights.
On hand were numerous members of the Rotary Club of St. Albans, which took on the task of restoring the fountain. “This is by far our biggest endeavor as a club,” said Rotarian Rene Meillieur.
Dave Kimel, who first suggested his fellow Rotarians take on the task of raising the funds to restore the fountain, said, “I have a hard time speaking; I’m that emotional, not so much for the fountain as for everything it symbolizes.”
“This would not have happened without everything else that’s happened in St. Albans,” he said, referring to the revitalization of St. Albans City.
Gamache noted that when Gov. J. Gregory Smith donated the fountain in 1887, “He did it as a symbol of hope and prosperity for the future.”
Both Tom Gallagher, who chaired the Rotary’s fountain restoration committee, and Lt. Gov. Phil Scott quoted Smith who on Oct. 10, 1887, wrote in a letter about the fountain, “It should be the desire of every citizen, as it is certainly mine, to see our village restored to its pristine condition and healthful growth.”
The post-Civil War years had been difficult ones around the nation and in Vermont.
In 1886 a Village Improvement Society was formed. The society raised $2,000 for improvements to Taylor Park and the village appropriated $300. The improvements included the creation of a pond to the south of the fountain with an iron bridge over it. Both are now gone, but the ladies remain.
Smith wrote he was imposing no conditions on his gift, “as I am sure none are needed to secure such care and attention as may be required to preserve it, and in its preservation to secure such enjoyment as it may afford the citizens.”
Gamache, said of the ladies, “They’ve watched over us in good times and bad,”
With the restoration, “Our kids and their kids will be able to do exactly what we’re doing today,” said Gamache.
“Thanks to everyone in the community who has dared to be optimistic and think about how we can be better together,” she added.
Gallagher began his remarks by saying, “There’s more thank yous to be said than there is time to say them.”
The fountain project in total cost just shy $300,000. The state gave the city a $20,000 historical preservation grant, and the Rotary’s “Leave your mark in the park” campaign raised another $129,000. Spaces on 16 granite benches were sold to community members who wanted to leave their mark for generations to come.
Rotary will raise the remaining funds through its annual fundraisers, particularly the home exposition held annually in the early spring, said Rotarian Dana Rocheleau.
The downtown merchants this summer raised $5,000 through an auction of Adirondack chairs decorated by local artists. In return, they were commemorated on a bench.
Also presented with a bench by his fellow Rotarians was engineer Peter Garceau who donated his time and expertise to the restoration.
Saturday evening, contributors were invited to enjoy appetizers, drink Ladies Ale brewed by 14th Star Brewing Co. or have a glass of wine from Due North winery in Franklin and witness the turning of the lights in the fountain. The LED lights, which can be set to a number of colors, were blue for the rededication.
Gamache also thanked parks committee member and former city council representative Jeff Young, who first raised the alarm about the condition of the fountain, researched restoration possibilities and connected the city with Robinson Iron, owners of the original molds for the statues.
She also thanked Kate Manahan, who started the Save the Ladies campaign and Jack Tremblay, as well as artist Mark Prent for his efforts to keep the fountain flowing over the years.
Originally made as a gift to the Village of St. Albans, Gamache noted, “This does not belong to a municipality. This is our fountain in St. Albans.”