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The Origin and Fate of the
Town Fountain of Emmitsburg

Michael Hillman & Louie O'Donoghue

"It has been said any boy that has drunk from this well
will never lose his desire to return." 

Editors note: We've hyperlinked a larger version of all the photos in this article.  To see them click on the photos.

One of the most intriguing historical mysteries of the past half century in Emmitsburg is the question of the whereabouts of the fountain that once graced the town’s center square.  It seems that just about every old-timer has an opinion about what happened to it, from its removal to Frederick to its dismantling and dispersal on the mountainside.  In this article we’ll explore the history behind the rumors and speculations relating to the removal of the fountain.

To fully understand the fountain’s history, however, we need to go back to the first settlers of The Tom’s Creek Hundred, as the northern part of Frederick County and the southern part of Adams County was known in the 1700s.  In the days of the Toms Creek Hundred, and for many years following the founding of Emmitsburg in 1785, water was plentiful.  The thick forests that blanketed the area caught and held rainwater, allowing it to slowly percolate into the surrounding streams, thus assuring local settlers a steady flow year round.

According to legend, a well was dug in the town’s center square soon after its founding in 1785 for the common use of all residents.  But in recent years, the veracity of this legend was challenged.  During the rebuilding of Main Street in the 1980s, Mount St. Mary’s History Professor, and then Mayor, Robert Preston made an unsuccessful attempt to locate the well following the stripping of the street down to its original level.

While the well is not shown on a detailed map of the town dated 1809, it can be seen in a 1823 drawing of the town by Father Bruté, who was then serving at Mount St. Mary’s College.

A first-hand account of the filling of the well in preparation for the installation of the fountain in 1884, as well as references to it in the town government records, leaves no doubt that at one time there was a common well in the town square.  All that really is in doubt is the date of the actual digging of the well.

Just as the date of the actual digging of the well is unknown, so too is the date of the installation of the hand pump, which figures prominently in many old stories about the town.  Also lost in the mists of time is the origin of the water trough that stood by the pump, which watered thirsty horses as they passed through the town.

"The above cut, representing the central object of our town square, was executed by a friend who, sojourning for a few days, at the Western Maryland Hotel, a short time ago, made a drawing of the same, and after returning to his home prepared the cut for the Chronicle.   It speaks for itself, thought the talented artist suggests the idea the pump is saying to the lamp-post "Goodbye old  friend our race is nearly run, we must make room for the march of improvement." - Aug 16th, 1884 Edition of the Emmitsburg Chronicle

Because of the favorable hydraulic effects that result from proximity to a mountain, one only had to dig a few feet before striking water.  As a result every resident who wanted a well could have one.  Because they were dug by hand, most wells were shallow, making them susceptible to contamination by animal as well as human waste.  This was especially true for the wells dug by residents within the town.

Today, wastewater and rain runoff are channeled away from streets into paved gutters, and garbage is collected from homes.  But in the 1800s the streets of Emmitsburg were often muddy and nearly impassable at certain times of the year.  Animals roamed at will through the village leaving behind them unmistakable evidence of their presence.  Garbage was thrown into the streets and alley ways.  Slop and other waste matter was simply thrown into the back yard.  Outhouses were improperly dug and their contents often leached into neighboring wells.

At the time, there was no Board of Health to point out to residents the threat posed by the unsanitary conditions.  The only doctors here were general practitioners who were completely unprepared to deal with an outbreak of a then incurable disease, cholera.

Cholera was spread through the consumption of infected food or water.  It thrived in dense populations and left in its wake a high death rate.  Given the lack of sanitation in the village at the time, the conditions were ripe in Emmitsburg for the spread of the disease.

Cholera usually struck in the months of July and August and cases would sometimes occur until the middle of September.  The summer months were a perfect time for the germs to breed.  Each day was boiling hot and each night thunderstorms and rain left puddles of stagnant water in the muddy streets.

In 1853, a cholera epidemic ravaged the east coast.  According to James Helman's History of Emmitsburg, the first case of cholera in Emmitsburg

... was that of a black man, Isaac Norris; he was taken early in the night in a stable and died there; black men attended him, not knowing the disease; whether the doctor did or not, I am not prepared to say. Suffice it to say, he died during the night and was buried in Dr. Patterson's field. Shortly after another case occurred and the man died. Then it was noised about that cholera was in town and the scare commenced. Soon another and still another case, until the death list was twenty-three. It continued dry the entire summer and very hot until the middle of September, when a very severe thunder storm passed this way, drenching the earth and washing the surface as it had not been for many months. After this rain no new cases occurred.

In spite of the loss of 23 souls, the sanitary conditions within the town did not change.  As late as 1880, farm animals were still loose within the town limits.  In 1881, the town passed an ordinance to prohibit the running at large of cattle in the streets.

In 1881, a cholera pandemic broke out in India, spreading rapidly east and west.  Public health officials, eager to prevent its spread to America, began to demand that unsanitary conditions in densely populates areas be addressed.  In May 1881, the Frederick County Board of Public Health conducted an inspection within Emmitsburg town limits.  Its report documented the unsanitary conditions it found, and directed the town to correct them, especially the runoff of surface water and the purity of drinking water.  In response to the concerns raised by the board of health, the town immediately appointed a committee to investigate the feasibility of providing the town with a central pure water supply.

It was not until 1882, however, that a serious effort was finally begun to address the muddy conditions of the streets and walkways.  Cobblestones were placed in and around the town square and the main streets: Frederick (South Seton), Gettysburg (North Seton), Baltimore (East Main) and Carlisle (West Main) were laid with stone, and property owners were directed to install slate walk paths in front of their properties.  In 1883, the Town Constable was empowered to inspect the sanitary condition of barnyards within the town and to direct their cleanup if necessary.  If the order was ignored, the town had the power to undertake the cleanup at the expense of the property owner.

In May 1883 a town meeting was held to determine if sufficient funds could be raised for an Emmitsburg Water Company whose purpose would be to supply the citizens of Emmitsburg with pure mountain water.  With a resounding "yes," the town elected John Donoghue as the first president and authorized him to begin selling stock, the proceeds of which would be used to fund the construction for the company.

Selling of the stock was handled by a committee of six men whose family names are, with one exception, extinct and now regulated to Emmitsburg’s history:  James A. Elder, George R. Ovelman, J. Taylor Motter, John Donoghue, Isaac S. Annan, and Maj. 0liver Horner.  [The families of the last two men became the largest shareholders, and, as such, obstinately exercised complete control over the water company's affairs for the next 40 years until they lost control as a result of the collapse of their banking house.]

On June 4, 1883, the Emmitsburg Water Company reported that the springs on Mr. T. Claybaugh's land, 204 feet higher than that of the square in the town, were the most promising point at which to obtain the water supply.  Mr. Claybaugh agreed to sell the springs, together with two or more acres of land surrounding it, for one hundred dollars.  All property owners through whose lands the pipe was to be laid agreed to donate the right of way for pipes.  On July 12, 1883, the town gave the Emmitsburg Water Company the right-of-way to lay water pipes within the town.  All that was left to do was to build the system.

R. K. Martin, Engineer of the Water Department of the City of Baltimore, was retained to examine the route, make estimates, and provide all necessary information in regard to such details as the location of the reservoir, the kind of pipe to be used, and so on.  On April 21, 1884, Nathaniel Rowe and Son was selected to lay the pipes from the Water Company reservoir to Emmitsburg, a distance of approximately 12,000 feet.

The first person to raise the subject of a fountain for the town square was Samuel Motter, the editor of the Emmitsburg Chronicle.  On June 21, 1884, the Chronicle carried the following plea:

The Fountain for the Square

The water mains, delayed by the rains, in their entrance to the town, are yet leisurely and surely coming, and soon the clear, cooling liquid will course through them, ready for outflow all over the village, and yet we learn naught of any movement towards procuring the fountain that must play in bright and sparkling radiance on the square. We shall need first a neat and substantial Granite coping, Elliptical or Octagonal in form to enclose a small plat of grass, in the middle of which shall stand a White Bronze Structure, with the figure of "Indian Tom" (the traditional chief of this entire neighborhood and from whom the creek derives its name) surmounting it, as the good genius of the village and the vicinity, from which shall flow forth in rainbow tints into a basin beneath the cooling spray, that will be at once an ornament to the town, and a gratification to all who may behold. Will no one move in this Matter? Would not a grand Festival and other entertainments bring about the desired boom? Let a meeting of the citizens, favorable to the improvement, be held, to discuss and arrange the plan for a public demonstration in celebration of the introduction of the water, and a committee be appointed to make the necessary arrangements. The Ladies will do their part, if called upon, by getting up a Festival to raise money for the Fountain, and if the Fourth of July should be fixed upon for the ceremonies, there would, no doubt be a great many persons from a distance attracted here for the occasion.

Motter’s call for a White Bronze Structure of the figure of "Indian Tom" clearly indicates that while the idea of a fountain was now being circulated, the final shape of the fountain was not as yet settled.  As Motters' July 9th article shows (below), some in the town felt that a simple pipe providing water to the old water trough was all that was necessary, an opinion with which Motter strongly disagreed:

The Fountain Finally

We respectfully assure those members of the fraternity, who are kindly interested in the "Emmitsburg Fountain" that it is not completed as they say. Those who have the work in charge have made such commendable progress in it, that we are quite content to await results. On the placing of the jets in position on last Friday, there was a trial to observe the working; this proved satisfactory, as we have understood, not being present. A contract has been made for a granite coping to surround the large basin, this will be in place in the course of a week or two, and the chains, or whatever protection may surmount the coping will follow in due time, we prefer to let the ladies in charge speak for themselves in their own way and time, and do not intend to intrude upon their proper announcements, therefore we have no grounds on which to predicate the time and mode in which this beautiful improvement will be finally turned over to the town; nor do we know what movements may yet be requisite to meet in full the costs of the structure, contributions are however yet needed, let no one hesitate who is minded to help in the good cause.

On July 15, 1884, the town council passed Ordinance Number 54, which provided for a referendum to learn the opinions of the townspeople in regard to waterworks for the town center's fountain.  Although the results of the this referendum cannot be found, an August 23, 1884, article in the Emmitsburg Chronicle removes any doubt of its outcome:

The Fountain Will Flow

On the 9th inst., we wrote a short article entitled "The Fountain Finally" and thought to have taken leave of the subject; we remarked, "There must arise some extraordinary occasion, before we again, revert to it." Very unexpectedly the occasion did arise, before the next issue of our paper. True to the suggestion we made but recently, the women of our village (we prefer not to use the term ladies in this connection, for it fails to represent the dignity due, the true descendants of the woman created by God, as companion to the man) took up the matter and got to work with an energy and determination, that implies the certain accomplishment of the intention to make the Fountain on the square a fixed fact.

A meeting to take preliminary action towards raising the necessary funds, was held at the Engine House on Friday the 15th, for procuring a Fountain to adorn the square, and after the meeting was called to order in due course of business. The officers were elected as follows: President, Mrs. Samuel Motter; Vice Presidents Mrs. George P. Beam, Mrs. Isaac Hyder, Mrs. S. N. McNair, Miss Geo. R. Ovelman, Miss Kate Sweeney, Miss M. L. Motter ; Treasurer, Mrs. M. E. Ehrehart, with Miss Annie McBride, Assistant Treasurer; Secretary, Mrs. E. L. Rowe.

The following resolutions were then adopted: Resolved that a Festival be held for raising money towards buying a Fountain for the Public Square in Emmitsburg. Resolved that the Festival be held in Mr. John G. Hess’ carriage shops to begin on Thursday night August 21st, and to continue during the week. Many ladies present volunteered to take charge of the cake, confectionery, fancy, flower, and ice cream tables.

After the meeting active preparations at once commenced, and the majority of the citizens were quite enthusiastic in the matter, now that the thing is really started, and those engaged in the work have felt much encouraged by the general disposition to contribute to and aid the cause. It may be that the fact of its being leap year, made it necessary for the women's hands to begin the work, but they could not have gone very far without the assistance and coperation of the sterner sex, which they have had in as full measure as gallantry and public spirit could dictate.

The Festival opened on Thursday night, and presented a scene of attraction, such as has scarcely been witnessed in this place; the room which could only be obtained for this week, on which account the preparations were necessarily much hastened, is quite long and conveniently wide, and well adapted to the occasion, was handsomely decorated with flags, vines, flowers and evergreens, taste-fully arranged, about the tables on which were ready for sale, confectionery, fruits, tints and a fine collection of fancy goods. The cake table was a 'marvel of sweetness arranged and aggregated in its line, well adapted to please all tastes. The attendance was large and the young ladies in their politest moods being intent on business made the occasion enjoyable to all. The result of the evenings work much exceeded the expectations of the officials.

The exact dates of the selection of the final design for the fountain and its purchase are still unknown, but it can be safely assumed it was sometime after this festival and before September 27, when the contractor, E. G. Smyser, owner of Variety Iron Works of York, PA, arrived in town to begin preparations for the fountain's installation.

No 207 - 11 feet 10 inches high
Dolphin and Four Basin Fountain
With 12 feet or 14 feet diameter Antique Rim or Coping for ground Basin, with or without Vases
Diameter of First Basin 5 feet, 10 inches, Second Basin 3 feet, Third Basin 2 feet 4 inches, Top Basin 1 foot, 6 inches

Smyser's cast iron foundry was one of the oldest and largest in the state.  Established in 1840, by 1889 it was reported to be "one of the great Iron Establishments of the Country."  The fountain purchased by the "Fountain Appreciation Committee" from the Smyser company was not unique, but a stock item carried in thier catalog. 

Buyers could select any number of tiers.  The town of Chambersburg, for example, purchased a five-tier fountain.  Several years later, Frederick City opted, like Emmitsburg, for the four-tier model.

The decision by both towns to purchase the same "off the shelf" stock fountain, rather than the more costly "unique" fountains, laid the groundwork for the belief by some in the latter half of the 20th century that the Frederick fountain, still located at 7th and Market Streets, was the old Emmitsburg fountain.  However, an examination of the name engraved on the Frederick fountain during its casting reveals that the Frederick fountain is younger than the Emmitsburg fountain by at least five years, if not more.

On September 8, 1884, the Emmitsburg Water Company agreed to provide water to the fountain at no cost.  On September 17, 1884, Samuel Motter, president of the Fountain Appreciation Committee, received official town permission to erect a fountain in the public square.

On September 27, 1884, work on the installation of the fountain began.  Smyser selected Felex Foller to do the masonry work, and Nathan Rowe and Sons to attend to the necessary plumbing and removal of the old pump covering the well.  In a 1927 interview, John Jackson, then 84, recounted how he helped build the foundation of the fountain, doing the brick and masonry work.  Mr. Jackson stated that the existing well, which was filled in order to secure the solid foundation the fountain would need, was more than fifty feet deep, an impressive depth given the fact that it had been dug by hand.

It is unknown when the fountain was officially installed and water first flowed from it.  Based upon examination of its identical twin in Frederick, we concluded that assembly consisted only of the simple bolting of pieces.  If this is correct, it can be assumed that Smyser's original estimate of two weeks to complete the work leads to a mid-October 1884 date as the most likely for the fountain’s unveiling.

On July 3, 1885, on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the town, the fountain was officially turned over to the Corporation of Emmitsburg as the property of the citizens.  The town council immediately turned control of the fountain over to Emmitsburg Water Company as it was "the understanding from the start that the Commissioners merely gave their consent for its erection without any talk of taking control of it."

For the next 43 years, the fountain exceeded Samuel Motter’s prediction that it would be an "ornament to the town, and a gratification to all who may behold."  The fountain plays an integral part in countless oral histories, from little boys who lost teeth when they crashed their bikes into it, to starry-eyed lovers who passed away blissful hours listening to the magical sounds of its falling water.  The current plaque recounting the role of Emmitsburg in the Civil War, which now stand on South Seton Street next to the post office, was originally placed next to the fountain.

While ornamental in nature, the fountain nevertheless still fulfilled an important role: a water source for the horses upon which the movement of goods and services still depended. The town square in which it resided served as a crossroad for travelers headed south from Gettysburg, north from Frederick, and west from Baltimore to Pittsburg.  As such, the taste of the cool sweet mountain water ushering from the fountain was always a welcome treat for thirsty horses and their riders.

Unfortunately, the fountain's location at the center of this very important crossroads, so ideally suited for serving equestrian traffic, would be its downfall in the age of the automobile.  At first, with the speed limit set at 5 miles per hour within the town, the infrequent car passing through the town could easily maneuver around the fountain.  But as the number of cars grew, so too did traffic in the square.  To help alleviate growing congestion, the square around the fountain was paved with concrete by the state, but this only delayed the inevitable. 

The economic boom of the 1920s brought with it an explosion in the number of automobiles and trucks plying the roads, and a concurrent rise in the frequency of accidents as cars collided with the fountain.  Guidepost and chains were installed to protect it, but this action only made it more difficult for multiple axel trucks to navigate around it.  Sadly, all the steps taken to protect the fountain also served to detach it from the people it had long served.  The fountain now became an island in the middle of traffic, blocked off from would-be admirers by chains. 

To make matters worse, the original proponents of the fountain, who for years had delighted in the upkeep of the fountain and the surrounding area, were dying off and with their passing, this semimetal structure had received scant attention with the result that what was once the pride of the community had deteriorated into a  simple sterile concrete slab.    

The end for the fountain can quickly.  At 2 am, Sunday morning, July 24, 1927, a five passenger Chrysler car driven by I. F. Haifley smashed into the fountain all but destroying the cement basin of the fountain.   For three weeks the wounded fountain waited its fate.  Few came to its defense.

On August 9, 1927, the town council passed a motion "to sell and remove the fountain." 

The removal of the fountain was not a popular decision, especially among the older residents who recalled it from their early years, and who looked on with disdain as their fountain was replaced by a sterile stone pillar atop of which stood a blinker light.  [In 1953 the blinker was removed, replaced by the present overhead light.]

The fountain, which had stood in the square for 43 years, was dismantled on August 23, 1927.  The upper part of the fountain was purchased by Lancelot Jacquas, for $30.  Lancelot planned on placing it on his large estate at Catoctin Furnace. 

[Lancelot had purchased the furnace property in 1923 at foreclosure.  By that time the furnace had been closed for years and stripped of machinery, but the property included hundreds of acres. Soon after purchasing the furnace, Lancelot set about selling off parcels, including the stone cottages once used by workmen.  The onset of the Depression scuttled Lancelot’s plans for developing the furnace area a premier summer resort, and along with it his plans for the fountain.]

Polly Baumgardner Shank remembers seeing the fountain in the woods just off the old Route 15 roadway next to the furnace until the beginning of WWII.  "In the fall, when there were no leaves on the trees, you could see the old fountain leaning on its side in the woods, as if someone just dropped it there. Every time we went to Frederick, my father would point to it and say 'there's the old Emmitsburg fountain'.  The last time I saw it was around the beginning of the world war II."

It has been suggested by some that Lancelot might have moved the fountain to his main mansion in Smithburg after his plans for developing the Catoctin Furnace area fell through, but evidence for this assertion is doubtful.  The furnace was purchased in 1935 by the federal government.  Given that 1) Polly Shank saw the fountain after this date, and 2) the proceeds from the sale of the fountain in 1927 are listed in the Emmitsburg ledger as 'fountain and scarp iron', we are forced to conclude that the fountain suffered the same fate of all scrap metal at the beginning of World War II:  it was melted down and used for the war effort.

Prevailing folktales on the fate of the fountain, and their origins

The most frequently repeated tale about the fate of the fountain was that it was moved to Frederick and now stands at 7th and Market Street.  Of all the stories, this one is the easiest to understand, since the Frederick fountain is an identical twin of the Emmitsburg fountain.  Our approach to testing the veracity of this bit of folklore focused on locating documentation or photographs that would confirm the presence of the Frederick fountain in Frederick before 1927. 

We found this proof in a 1900 Frederick News paper.  In it was a very detailed history of the 7th Street fountain, along with a photo.  A comparison to 1930 photograph of the fountain and a turn of the century photography provided to us by the Frederick Historical Society clearly shows growth in the surrounding trees that could only have resulted from decades of growth, not years.  While the exact date of the turn of the century photo is unknown, the presence of horses and buggies and the absence of any automobiles is sufficient in our minds to prove its age.  In addition, the foundry markings on the Frederick fountain of "E. G. Smyser and Sons" date the manufacture of the Frederick fountain to sometime after 1887, three years after the installation of the Emmitsburg fountain.  We base this conclusion on the fact that following E. G. Smyser death in 1887, the name of the company was changed to E. G. Smyser & Sons, which is the name impressed on the Frederick fountain. Based upon this evidence, it is clear that the two are not the same, and that the Emmitsburg fountain was not moved to Frederick.

This particular story appears to have its roots in a 1965 edition of the Emmitsburg Chronicle which carried the following photo and caption:

Many local residents will remember this scene which dates back to approximately 1925. The picture was taken a few years after the dirt streets had been concreted and the old fountain was in full glow and flow. Back about 1930 the old fountain was removed and replaced by a modern traffic blinker light. The fountain was installed on N. Market St, Frederick, in front of WFMD radio station, where is still rests.

In February 1974, the Frederick Post carried an article that was supposed to finally put the rumor to rest that the Frederick fountain was the old Emmitsburg fountain.  Since the rumor persists to this day, we can safely say that it failed, and further served to fuel a new rumor about the fountain, that it was purchased by a man named Mitchell and taken to Frederick.  This, too, we now know is not true.

A follow-up article written by the same author just a week later erroneously proclaimed, "Lost Emmitsburg Fountain Found at St. Anthony's."

The article claimed that the planter pictured to the right was "part of the missing water fountain which once stood at the Emmitsburg town square [and] had been found at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Warren Stackhouse on St. Anthony's Road."  According to the story, "The Stackhouses, alerted by a friend, Mrs. Russell Rice, to a recent News-Post article on the local misunderstandings about the fountain, said that part of the fountain had been placed on their property, probably in the late 1920s or early 1930s."

A comparison to photographs of the old fountain led the author to conclude that "it appears the Stackhouse fountain is the second tier of the original."  However a simple cursory examination clearly reveals it is not.  The Stackhouse fountain is a simple flower planter, nothing more.

The Stackhouse planter was later sold at an estate auction as "part of the fountain of Emmitsburg," and was subsequently purchased by the Emmitsburg Business and Professional Association (EBPA).  In 1994 the EBPA arranged to have the planter installed outside of the community center, and placed a plaque at its base with the erroneous assertion that it was part of the original town fountain.

Another story in circulation about the fate of the fountain is that it is still on the mountain.  In some versions it is in one piece and still working, while in another version it has been broken apart and scattered.

The source of this particular piece of folklore traces its roots to the second fountain that had once been located in Emmitsburg.  This much smaller, one-tiered fountain was placed in front the Emmit House, and removed sometime during the 1920s to make way for the Doughboy statue.

After its removal, the Emmit House fountain was purchased by the Reuter family and installed on their property "on the side of the mountain" on Annandale Road west of town.  Over the years, stories sprang up claiming that this fountain was the fountain from the town square, but, once again, a simple comparison of photographs clearly shows that it is not.


When we first began research for this article, it was our hope that we would be able to determine conclusively the fate of the Emmitsburg fountain.  While are fairly confident in our belief that the fountain met its end in a smelter during WWII, we nevertheless do not close the door on other possibilities.

We fully recognize that we were able to learn about the origins and immediate fate of the fountain thanks to Internet.  We feel confident that as it becomes easier to convert old written documents into searchable text, we’ll learn more about the fate of the fountain, perhaps through an inventory of scrap metal collected from the Catoctin Furnace, or the sales records of E. G. Smyser & Co., or the eventual recovery and digitization of the long lost editions of the Emmitsburg Chronicle covering the periods from 1921 through the 1930s.  Until we know for certain, we’ll follow any new clue or lead, no matter how obscure or distant.

Epilogue - Take II

On September 1st of 2004, while doing a search for old wrought iron fountain, the current owner of the original molds for the Emmitsburg fountain came across this articles and contacted the Emmitsubrg Historical Society, inquiring if we had any interest in obtaining a new fountain made from the original molds ... keep tuned ... the story of the fountain of Emmitsburg is not over by a long short.

Have some information you feel would add to the story on the fountain?
If so, please send it to us at history@emmitsburg.net

Read other stories by Michael Hillman