September 29, 2011

Historic fountains rot away in a local national park

Two century-old DC fountains sit decaying and neglected in the woods of a national park in Maryland. The fountains had been missing from the 1940s until they were rediscovered in the woods of Fort Washington National Park in the 1970s.

The top portion of the McMillan fountain, pictured below, was returned to Crispus Attucks park in the Bloomingdale neighborhood in 1983. In 1992 it was moved back to the fenced-off grounds of the McMillan Reservoir just a few blocks away.

The fountain was installed in 1913 at the McMillan Reservoir as a memorial to Senator James McMillan (R – Michigan), who is more remembered locally for his his ambitious McMillan Plan to beautify Washington. The fountain was dismantled in 1941, when the reservoir was fenced off from the public.

McMillan Fountain
Top of the McMillan Fountain today (left) and in 1912 (right).

Though the top of the McMillan Fountain had been restored to the reservoir grounds, a Bloomingdale ANC commissioner told me the base of the fountain was in the woods in Fort Washington along with the remains of the fountain that stood at the center of the now-razed Truxton Circle.

I went to Fort Washington in search of these discarded works of art. I asked a park ranger where the fountain was and she drew me a map, saying that it stood in the park’s “dump” and partly behind a fence.

I went to the picnic area nearest the site and walked into the woods a short distance where I found a fence. Behind it stood piles of bricks and other discarded building materials.

Beside the site is a dugout that serves as the back court to Battery Emory, a concrete gun battery built in 1898 to protect the capital city from enemy ships.

As I passed through the unfenced dugout, I immediately spotted few granite blocks that served as the cornerstones of the base bowl. Though they are strewn about the ground, a 1912 photograph can help us identify what pieces went where.

McMillan Fountain Cornerstone
A cornerstone sitting on the ground (left) formed part of the fountain’s bottom basin (right).

The elements of the fountain were stacked like totem pole. The bottom element features carved classical allegorical heads from whose mouths water gushed into the carved bowls below.

McMillan Fountain base
Fence material and tree debris cover the carved granite (left) that stood as the fountain base (right).

The next element of the stack is the fluted base to the top bowl.

McMillan Fountain collar
Upside down on the ground (left) is the fluted base for the top bowl (right).

Several other large granite stones are stacked and marked with numbers, presumably to help in reassembly.

McMillan Fountain pieces

The site also contains the rusting remains of the fountain that stood at Truxton Circle, which formed the intersection of North Capitol Street, Florida Avenue, Lincoln Road, and Q Street. The circle was built around 1901 and the fountain installed there originally stood at the triangle park at Pennsylvania Avenue and M Street in Georgetown.

Truxton Circle stood at Florida Avenue, North Capitol Street, Q Street, and Lincoln Road from 1901 to 1940, when it was demolished to aid commuter traffic.

A newspaper at the time described it as one of the largest fountains in the city. The circle was removed in 1940 to ease the flow of commuter traffic. At that time, the fountain, which may date to as early as the 1880s, made its way to Fort Washington to rust in the woods.

Truxton Circle fountain Truxton Circle fountain bowl rim
The metal pedestal (left) held up the fountain bowl whose rim rusts in pieces on the ground (right). Notice the classical egg-and-dart pattern.

The fountain was also noted for the metal grates that stood near its base. Now these grates sit rusting in the woods.

Fountain grates Grates from the Truxton Circle Fountain

If you want to see the fountain remains for yourself at Fort Washington National Park, go to picnic area C. Beyond the end of the parking lot is a restroom building and behind that is the fountain “graveyard.” A fence encloses part of the site, but you can enter through the large gap down the hillside.

Rather than tossing aside our city’s artistic patrimony, we should aim to restore these treasures to the neighborhoods from which they came. Public art is part of what differentiates cherished neighborhoods from unmemorable places.

These works remind us of the accomplishments and civic-mindedness of generations past and urge us to carry on the tradition of civic improvement for generations to come.

Categories: Good Goverment, Historic Preservation, History
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6 Replies

  1. Seriously, let’s work to get these back in the city. At least we should be able to find a place to store them indoors where they won’t be left to the elements and we can get them reassembled at some point!

    IMGoph - September 29, 2011 @ 5:43 pm
  2. oh my gosh…can we bring back the Tructon Circle and Fountain….how beautiful it would make the neighborhood. sigh

    karen - September 30, 2011 @ 3:16 pm
  3. Oh what a steep price so many American cities and urban dwellers have paid for the benefit of commuters and suburbia!

    So many of our DC communities, and in particular Bloomingdale, Eckington and Truxton Circle, were sacrificed in the 1940’s and 1950’s so that suburbanites could enter and leave the city quickly and efficiently without regard to the impact on the local inhabitants, businesses and the neighborhood’s historic and aesthetic value.

    By removing Truxton Circle and ultimately constructing the North Capitol Street “Freeway”, our neighborhoods were separated by a highway chasm of loud, polluting, speeding cars and trucks. This infrastructure was never going to benefit the local residents and businesses, yet the city leaders at the time permitted this gross injustice on one of its own neighborhoods, likely using those very resident’s tax dollars to permanently scar their neighborhoods, destroying their value and facilitating their decline.

    So much controversy has been made regarding the DC Streetcar overhead wires, which can hardly ever impede any vistas (witness any number of ancient and historic European cities). Yet the North Capitol Street “Freeway”, with its overpasses/bridges, fences, walls and guardrails is still permitted to this day without even any thought, much less protest – even though the once glorious vistas of the Capitol Dome from any location on North Capitol Street in Bloomingdale and Eckington have been permanently obstructed and ruined!

    It is time our neighborhoods, our communities rallied to push our leaders – Civic Associations, ANC members, city government officials – to undo this injustice and correct the wrongs that have been inflicted on the historic fabric of Bloomingdale, Eckington and Truxton Circle!

    The North Capitol Street “Freeway” and other commuter entrances into the District should no longer be “FREE”!

    How about the city impose a toll on commuters entering the city and those funds be allocated to covering up the chasms with decks??? From the “bridge” intersection of North Capitol Street and Rhode Island Ave to the “bridge” intersection of North Capitol Street and New York Avenue – the heavy volume commuter and commercial traffic should be completely submerged and covered by a deck – perhaps with a green-way/community park on top?

    The Bloomingdale, Eckington and Truxton Circle communities must lead the fight to restore what was once a grand boulevard and a charming circle!

    Bloomingdale Resident.

    Paul - September 30, 2011 @ 5:10 pm
  4. Truxton Circle was so beautiful!

    Maria - October 1, 2011 @ 1:52 pm
  5. Perhaps after they restore Truxton Circle the city can purchase Wendy’s at NY & Florida Avenues, NE and build an offset circle there with a fountain as well. They’ve already produced the effect of a circle with a new impossible traffic pattern. At least we could muse on the beauties of a circle and fountain while pulling our hair out waiting at all the lights. Aesthetics may mitigate the frustration.

    Jan - October 6, 2011 @ 2:41 pm
  6. Great detective work.

    Shame that things that poorer previous generations sunk so much time and effort into should be so callously tossed away like so much picnic litter. Instead of throwing them away, perhaps they could find new homes in other traffic circles around town — particularly now that circles are enjoying newfound popularity. The upcoming South Capitol Street bridge reconstruction will create circles (ovals) at either end, in fact.

    Payton - October 20, 2011 @ 2:02 pm

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