Chicago’s many fountains are gems of art, history, politics and culture. Their stories often overlooked.
Sure, we all know Buckingham Fountain and the Crown Fountain. But what about the Nelson Algren Fountain at Division Street and Ashland and Milwaukee Avenues? Or the Drexel Boulevard Fountain, originally named the Thomas Dorsey Fountain, after the South Side musician considered to be the father of gospel music?
Author Greg Borzo explores various fountains in his newest book "Chicago's Fabulous Fountains," with photos by Debra Shore.
A news officer covering science at the University of Chicago, Borzo also volunteers to give tours of the “L” and often was asked about the fountains they passed on the route.
“I realized that people knew about the Chicago Fire and World’s Columbian Exposition which was held in Chicago in 1893 but they didn’t know anything about Chicago’s fountains,” says Borzo.
Because Borzo likes to chronicle the city’s intriguing icons, he began extensively researching Chicago’s fountains, past and present. In the process he inspired his friends, who he dubbed “fountain finders,” to join in the search.
“They got a fountain buzz going and they’d say there’s one at such and such” says Borzo. “As I found out about fountains, I began to realize it’s about the artists, the ethnic groups, the politics—it’s so much more than just a pretty fountain.”
Immersed in fountain lore, Borzo connects the historic dots or should we say splashes of water.
“People are very interested in the 1893 Fair and what I found is there are four fountains directly related to the fair—which were built for the fair or part of the fair,” he says. “The Rosenberg Fountain on Michigan Avenue and 11th Street was built in time for the Fair but was built near the Illinois Central Station that used to stand at 11th and Roosevelt so people getting off the train could get a drink.”
The fountain was a gift to the city by Joseph Rosenberg, a former paperboy who used to get thirsty while on his route. To prevent that from happening to others, the fountain had metal drinking cans attached by a chain.
The Women’s Christian Temperance Union was also worried about thirsty people and wanted to provide water instead of having them stop at a bar for a whiskey.
“Fountain Girl was located at the fair and people could take one of the tin cups chained to the fountain to get a drink,” says Borzo. “After the Fair, they moved Fountain Girl to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union skyscraper in the downtown area and when that got torn down the fountain was moved again to Lincoln Park. The city didn’t ban shared drinking cups until 1911. The Illinois Humane Society had about 60 fountains with shared cups, two still at Chicago and Michigan. Now they’re cute fountains, but instead of the cups they have troughs for water for carriage horses.”
Borzo says fountains were moved quite frequently. Researching the 125 existing outdoor fountains in the city wasn’t easy.
“There’s no record of many of them,” he says, noting there are records of “lost” fountains that no longer exist. Others are slipping away.
Does Borzo have a favorite fountain?
“My favorite is the one I’m spending time with at the moment,” he says, but then relents. “There are six fountains at the base at the AON Center. The nice thing is you don’t have to pay admission and at night they’re lit. It’s fountain heaven.”