Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

Rome, with its plethora of fountains, including the famous 1735 Fontana di Trevi, which occupies center stage in the 1954 motion picture, Three Coins in the Fountain, starring Clifton Webb, is known to the world as “The City of Fountains.”

Rome’s sister city could be Philadelphia, also a city of fountains, although few visitors, or residents, see these wonderful works of water. Most Philadelphians can name the Swann Memorial Fountain on Logan Square – probably the most glorious – and the Washington Monument in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway – possibly the most awe – inspiring-but they may be hard-pressed to cite many others. Residents and visitors alike know the city for its historic buildings, sites, and structures – ­Independence Hall, the Edgar Allan Poe and the Betsy Ross houses, Carpenters’ Hall, Elfreth’s Alley, the USS Olympia and the USS Becuna, Wyck, Boathouse Row, Cliveden, and the Second Bank of the United States – rather than for its fountains. But many are just awaiting rediscovery!

Fountains are a measure of a city’s humanity, civic pride, sense of aesthetics, and imagination, created by artists, artisans, and laborers for a specific purpose in a specific place at a specific time. Once installed and splashing, fountains inevitably draw people to them for numerous reasons, such as solitude, solace, meditation, reflection, and sheer amusement. Fountains can soften what otherwise might appear to be a harsh, lifeless urban plaza, making it an inviting place to tarry in the noonday sun or, in the case of the John F. Kennedy Plaza, thoroughly unforgettable.

The fountain near the world-famous sculpture entitled LOVE in the JFK Plaza, at Fifteenth Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard, is utterly remarkable. LOVE made its debut in a 1964 painting by contemporary artist Robert Indiana. The artist then designed the sculpture, immortalized by the United States Postal Service on an eight-cent postage stamp in 1973. Three years later, Indiana lent the large aluminum sculpture to Philadelphia for the nation’s Bicentennial. LOVE remained on loan to the city for two years while a New York gallery representing Indiana attempted to sell the piece to Philadelphia. Negotiations faltered and in 1978 the gallery retrieved LOVE, hauling it ignominiously away in a truck so that a potential buyer could examine it in New York.

Outraged Philadelphians rallied, vehemently decrying the sculpture’s removal. Newspapers and radio and television stations championed the cause, demanding to know why city officials had allowed LOVE to leave. In an editorial, the Philadelphia Inquirer lambasted the loss as “a casualty of appalling City Hall insensitivity to aesthetic value.” Philadelphia business leader F. Eugene Dixon, chairman of the Philadelphia Art Commission, personally rescued the work by purchasing it and donating it to the city, which reinstalled it in JFK Plaza, where it continues to delight passersby. A mighty jet in the fountain behind LOVE shoots water sky-high before it descends into a cauldron of roiling water and bounces into a giant pool. The sculpture and fountain have become so famous that many Philadelphians simply refer to JFK Plaza as Love Park.

Not far away, near City Hall, two eye-catching fountains greet pedestrians. On the Fifteenth Street side of the complex rises the aptly named City Hall Fountain, a stunning contemporary work of art surrounded by playfully dancing waters. The Cascading Fountain, also located on this end of the plaza, resembles Niagara Falls in miniature. Visitors can actually walk behind the waterfall to experience it from inside the thundering cascade.

A few blocks west on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the Swann Memorial Fountain dominates Logan Square, named for William Penn’s land agent and secretary (as well as mayor of Philadelphia), James Logan (1674-1751). Dedicated to Wilson Cary Swann (1806-1876), a physician who championed the health benefits of fountains for humans and troughs for horses throughout the city, the spectacular fountain was designed by architect Wilson Eyre Jr. (1858-1944) and sculptor Alexander Stirling Calder (1870-1945).

In her will, written in 1878, Swann’s widow, Maria Elizabeth Bell Swann (1814-1891), whom he married in 1847, bequeathed fifty thousand dollars to the Philadelphia Fountain Society “in trust to erect in some suitable locality a large and handsome fountain in memory of my beloved husband, they reserving out of this sum a sufficient amount to be invested and the income applied to pay the annual expenses of cleaning the fountain and keeping it in perfect order and repairing and defraying any extra requisite for a constant supply of water.” Swann, a collector of art and first president of the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, founded the Philadelphia Fountain Society, incorporated by an act of the stage legislature in 1869. The bequest proved too small for a sizable memorial, forcing the Philadelphia Fountain Society to invest and reinvest its legacy, all the while considering suitable sites for the monument. More than twenty five years after Maria Swann’s death, the society’s board in 1917 selected Eyre to submit preliminary plans for the fountain.

Proponents originally envisioned placement of the fountain near City Hall, by Jacques Greber, in his 1918 proposal for the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, called for a circular treatment of Logan Square, with a central monumental feature. Members of the Philadelphia Fountain Society found the site appealing.

By day, powerful water jets soar fifty feet into the air to create magical, liquid architecture; by night, lighting illuminates the fountain. Calder called his work The fountain of the Three Rivers. “It was my fancy to imagine the three great decorative bronze figures as the rivers enclosing Philadelphia,” Calder explained, “the Delaware represented by the male Indian, the Schuylkill (or gentle river) south of this, and the Wissahickon (or hidden creek) to the west.”

Eyre’s pool for the fountain, a low-curbed basin measuring one hundred and twenty-four feet in diameter, unadorned and rimmed with Milford pink granite quarried near Worcester, Massachusetts, was completed by mid-November 1920. It took Calder several years to execute the three monumental bronze castings. “When I make a statue for Philadelphia,” he said, “I want it to be as big and comprehensive as possible.” He was the second of three generations of famous artists. His father, Alexander Milne Calder (1846-1923), designed the statue of William Penn that towers high above City Hall, as well as two hundred and fifty works of art ornamenting the wildly extravagant French Second Empire­-style building. Calder’s son, Alexander “Sandy” Calder (1898-1976), made his name in mobiles, sculptures composed of parts that move freely, especially in response to air currents.

The Swann Memorial Fountain made its public debut on Wednesday, July 23, 1924, the eve of the warmest day of the year. More than ten thousand celebrants danced in the streets surrounding the fountain to the music of a city police department band. The unveiling and dedication of such public works were planned to inspire patriotism and bolster civic pride. The nineteenth-century tradition of pageantry and spectacle often included rousing speeches, appearances by dignitaries, parades, fireworks, musical performances, and school, factory, and office closings. Ceremonies were memorable events designed to attract wide public participation. Unveiling the Swann Memorial Fountain was the Philadelphia Fountain Society’s proverbial last splash. Movie-goers will undoubtedly recall the landmark’s cameo in M. Night Shyamalan’s 1999 thriller, The Sixth Sense, filmed in Philadelphia.

At the western terminus of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway looms the impressive mustard-colored Creek temple of Minnesota dolomite housing the Philadelphia Museum of Art and before it, the colossal Washington Monument, created by Rudolf Siemering (1835-1905) of Berlin, Germany. Flanked by two large circular fountains reminiscent of those of ancient Rome, Siemering designed the Washington Monument in three zones, or levels, each representing a specific concept: General George Washington, the hero, astride a magnificent steed, at the top; allegorical figures depicting his time, on the center level; and, on the base level, the flora and fauna of his country, with representative human figures. Mammoth animals, among them a bison, elk, stag, and bear lend to the heroic appearance of the monumental memorial.

The Washington Monument was protracted both in the planning and the production. Given a contract in 1880, Siemer­ing was promised the opportunity to create, in his words, “a monument so grand, as there has never been one executed to my knowledge.” He had deliberately not considered the costs of such a memorial and had composed and designed freely. The sponsor of the herculean undertaking, the State Society of the Cincinnati of Pennsylvania, the country’s oldest military hereditary organization, of which George Washington had been a member, could not afford to be so cavalier in the handling of the finances and, as good fortune would have it, the Pennsylvania Company, a local financial institution, turned over the trusteeship of the Washington Monument Fund to the Society of the Cincinnati in 1880. This “windfall” – more than fifty-five thousand dollars – enabled the organization to authorize Siemering to proceed with his ambitious vision. It took the sculptor sixteen years to model and cast the fountain, but it had taken the Society of the Cincinnati nearly seventy years to raise the necessary funds.

After years of discouraging delays and disheartening setbacks, President William McKinley unveiled the monument on Saturday May 15, 1897. Dedication day was declared a public holiday, and all kinds of celebrations took place. The unveiling was a national event that recognized the single-mindedness and dedication – not to mention the perseverance – of the Society of the Cincinnati of Pennsylvania. Nearly thirty years later, in 1928, when the city’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway became a reality, the Washington Monument was moved from its original, but remote, site at the Green Street entrance of Fairmount Park to the prominent location in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art it now occupies.

Behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and opposite the Fairmount Water Works, stands yet another glorious creation, a replica of The Fountain of the Sea Horses, attributed to eigh­teenth-century German sculptor Christoph Unterberger (1732-1798). The exuberant fountain was a gift to the City of Philadelphia from the Italian government for the 1926 Sesquicentennial, celebrating one hundred and fifty years of American independence, but it did not arrive until 1928. Delivered in seventy-six pieces, The Fountain of the Seahorses was assembled by Italian craftsmen. Its mechanical systems eventually faltered, and it was refurbished as a Bicentennial project aided by the Philadelphia Chapter of the Sons of Italy.

Four travertine marble equines serve as the focal point of the fountain, which stands ten feet high and is surrounded by a reflecting pool measuring one hundred and fifty-five feet in circumference. Unterberger’s original fountain, the circa 1740 Fontana di Cavalli Marini, continues to awe visitors to the gardens of Rome’s fabled Villa Borghese.

There are fountains in existence but no longer working; others have been earmarked for restoration and return to working order. One of the most significant of these is the Catholic Total Abstinence Union Fountain, located on the former grounds of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Fairmount Park, just east of the Mann Center for the Performing Arts. Following the Civil War, an international temperance movement spawned a number of organizations. Members of the Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America – fully one-half its members Pennsylvanians – endorsed a resolution to erect a fountain to mark the organization’s participation in the Centennial.

Designed by Isaac H. Hobbs and Son and sculpted by German artist Hermann Kirn (1839-1912), the Catholic Total Abstinence Union Fountain was dedicated in July 1877. Union members believed that a fountain surrounded by statues of prominent Irish Catholics, including three who took part in the American Revolution, would serve as a lasting memorial to the organization’s principles and the patriotism of the Irish in the United States. Figures carved in marble, each weighing sixteen tons, portray Moses, resembling the biblical figure of the Fontana dell’ Acqua Felice (1585-1587) in Rome’s Piazza di San Bernardo; John Barry (1745-1803), the first commodore of the United States Navy; Charles Carroll (1737-1832) of Maryland, the longest-living signer of the Declaration of Independence; Archbishop John Carroll (1735-1815), the first Roman Catholic bishop in the United States (and cousin to Charles Carroll); and the Reverend Theobald Mathew (1790-1856), the Apostle of Temperance, and fervent leader of Ireland’s nineteenth-century temperance movement, who toured the United States for two years, beginning in 1849, to spread the anti­-alcohol message. He enlisted a half-million American disciples to his cause to whom he personally administered “The Pledge,” a brief but straightforward renunciation of inebriation: “I promise to abstain from all intoxicating drinks except used medicinally and by order of a medical man, and to discountenance the cause and practice of intemperance.”

Erected at a cost of more than fifty-four thousand dollars, the Catholic Total Abstinence Union Fountain consists of a granite platform in the shape of a Maltese cross and entirely surrounded by steps. The fountain itself rises from a mass of rustic rockwork in the center of the basin. Drinking fountains, surmounted by the nine-foot statues of Barry, the Carrolls, and Mathew, were located at the end of each arm of the cross. At the base of each of the four figures, water flowed from the mouth of a majestic lion’s head. Cameo portraits punctuate the circular wall surrounding the fountain; they include images of Revolutionary War era Philadelphian George Meade; Colonel Stephen Moylan (1734-1811), an officer in the Continental Army, Count Casimir Pulaski (1748-1779), Cavalry Chief; the Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834); Comte Francois J. Paul DeGrasse (1722-1788), Admiral of the French Navy; and Indian Chief Orono (1688-1802), of the Penobscot Nation, who lived to the age oi one hundred and ten. The wall also includes a bas-relief of the Abstinence Union’s official emblem. The fountain is no longer in operation, but that doesn’t deter individuals from visiting it, and funds are being raised to undertake basic repairs.

Nearby, on the grounds of Horticultur­al Hall, demolished in 1955 after years of neglect (see “Lost & Found,” Spring 2004), a beautiful reflecting pool with fountains, installed for the 1976 Bicentennial, was laid on the footprint of the original sunken gardens created for the Centennial Exhibition one hundred years earlier.

Just as Fairmount Park was acquired and expanded to protect the city’s water supply, the Schuylkill River, drinking fountains were constructed over natural springs so that Philadelphians would be abundantly supplied with potable drinking water. Fairmount Park’s springs provided an important source of water for residents for many years – it wasn’t unusual to see, on any given day, dozens of automobiles lining the drives and lanes while people filled as many bottles as they could carry with fresh water (see “The Watering of Philadelphia” by Charles Hardy, Summer 2004).

Urban encroachment forced the closing of these drinking fountains in 1961, but they remain attractive ornaments and artifacts of an earlier day. At their peak, the fountains numbered about ninety, and thirty-five are extant. One of the most beautiful and well-preserved of these drinking fountains, the William Leonidas Springs, graces Wissahickon Drive.

Not all of the city’s sculptures are located on the Parkway or in Fairmount Park. In center-city, at the northeast corner of Tenth and Locust Streets, Jefferson University built, in 1991, the Bluemle Life Sciences Building, one of the country’s foremost medical centers. The building’s plaza features the Water Falls Fountain, from which water gently spills over two dozen narrow slabs of stone to a pool below.

On Sixth Street, just north of Market Street and on the plaza between the James A. Byrne Federal Courthouse and the William J. Green Jr. Federal Building, is the dramatic Voyage of Ulysses Fountain, dedicated in 1976. David von Schlegell (1920-1992) designed the stainless steel structure, elegantly poised in a basin of water, as part of the Art-in-Architecture program of the federal government’s General Services Administration.

With his Odyssey, the blind minstrel Homer wove an epic tale of the Greek leader Ulysses’ wandering £or a decade on the Mediterranean Sea before reaching his homeland. Von Schlegell’s design relies on diagonal lines to counter the vertical aspects of the adjacent architecture. Voyage of Ulysses basically resembles a sail, but its appearance varies greatly from different perspectives. Hydraulic engineers assisted the sculptor in producing dramatic effects with the water as its plays against and through the gleaming sculpture.

Philadelphia is, literally, awash with fountains, from grand public memorials to smaller, more intimate works of art that punctuate neighborhood parks and pocket gardens. Such fountains include the Courtship Fountain at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Washington Square Fountain, the Centennial Fountain, designed in 1876 by Margaret Foley (1827-1872), the Seaweed Girl Fountain, the circa 1920 creation by Beatrice Fenton (1887-1983) of The Philadelphia Ten, and the Magnolia Garden Fountain, installed on Locust Street in 1959 by the Garden Club of America to honor the nation’s founders. Still others may be found in the courtyards and atriums of hotels, apartment houses, and office buildings throughout the city, where they enchant the curious, refresh the weary, and amuse the jaded with their playful show of water. Philadelphia has not only been blessed with an abundant supply of water, but the city has been truly gifted with works of art that showcase that precious natural resource with ceremony and celebration. Philadelphia, like Rome, may indeed be justifiably hailed as a city of fountains.


For Further Reading

Balkin, Penny Bach. Public Art in Philadelphia. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992.

Brownlee, David B. Building the City Beautiful: The Benjamin Franklin Parkway and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1989.

Fairmount Park Art Association. Sculpture of a City: Philadelphia’s Treasures in Bronze and Stone. New York: Walker Publishing Company, Inc., 974.

Finkel, Kenneth. Philadelphia Then and Now. Philadelphia: Library Company of Philadelphia, 1988.

Klein, William M., Jr. Gardens of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995.

Marion, John Francis. Bicentennial City. Princeton, N.J.: Pyne Press, 1974.

McClelland, Jim. Fountains of Philadelphia: A Guide. Mechanics­burg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 2005.


The editor acknowledges the assistance of Kyle R. Weaver, editor of Pennsylvania titles for Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, in acquiring this article for publication in Pennsylvania Heritage.


Jim McClelland is a resident of Philadelphia. In 2004, lie was named executive director emeritus of The Philadelphia Art Alliance, which this year is celebrating the ninetieth anniversary of ifs founding in 1915. He retired from tire Philadelphia Art Alliance, tire country’s oldest multi-disciplinary arts center, to devote more time to freelance writing. He specializes in the arts and is the author of more than one hundred celebrity interviews and features that have appeared in a number of publications, including People on Parade, The Magazine Antiques, Art & Antiques Dance International and Ceramics Monthly. His book, Fountains of Philadelphia: A Guide, was recently released by Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg.