A Tale of Three Fountains
Annapolis has another fountain. You can’t miss it, for it dominates the plaza on West Street at Park Place as the great i am. Capping it is an unknown godlike male in the classic tradition and classically surrounded by horses. Water shimmers down it into a trough.
Intrigued by the fountains of Rome, where people gathered to laugh and talk and hold hands, developer Jerry Parks built this fountain to welcome visitors to Park Place. It watches over the ghosts of horses that raced along West Street, challenging each other to be the first at Three Mile Oak on Generals Highway 300 years ago.
Fountains have a long history. The springs of life giving water had magical properties, or so thought ancient Greeks, who adorned them with statues of gods and goddesses to assure that the water would continue to spring up from the mysterious underground. On the holy mountain Parnassus, sacred to the god Apollo, those who drank from the waters of the fountain of Castalia would be able to write poetry — or so it was believed.
So we expect fountains to do wonders.
Where water was plentiful in the ancient world, artists designed waterfalls to capture the sparkles of sunlight and surrounded them with flowers and trees as the first gardens for sanctuary, meditation or assignations. During the Renaissance, fountains in the classical style emerged all over Italy, Spain and France.
Trevi Fountain — featuring the god Neptune and made famous by the 1950s’ song and movie Three Coins in a Fountain — was built in 1762. Water flowed in the gardens of Versailles Palace in 1680 in designs traced back to the gardens and irrigation methods of ancient Persia in 400bc.
Fountains bring us water, adornment and inspiration.
The tradition continues in Annapolis.
Southgate Fountain, the city’s oldest, was built in 1901 to memorialize the Rev. Scott William Southgate, who served St. Anne Church for 39 years during the tumultuous post-Civil War era. Citizen contributions supported its construction.
At the turn of the century, before cars, horses drank from the water at its base. In later times, students would make it a bubble bath trough. In 2005, the fountain got a facelift, and its water was made to recirculate. The community gathered at the site as in 1901, to rededicate the fountain.
Southgate stood alone as the city’s only fountain until the 1991, when Gov. William Donald Schaefer added a second across the street to complete the redesign of the gardens at Government House by his companion and official hostess, Hilda Mae Snoops. Visible through the black iron pillar fence to walkers on State Circle, the water — cascading down over three tiers — lends a tranquilizing atmosphere to an otherwise hectic environment.
But its history is anything but tranquil. This fountain is the power point where the wills of three governors converged and conflicted. The Schaefer-Snoops fountain was turned off by the next governor, Parris Glendening, who claimed drought as his reason. Schaefer took his revenge, revealing his successor’s courtship of a new wife. Turning on Hilda Mae’s fountain continued as an issue in the next gubernatorial contest, won by Robert Ehrlich.
It would be another 20 years before Park Place would join the city’s fountain inventory. We’ll see what stories, perhaps even poems, it inspires.