I have often noticed these old drinking fountains on historic buildings – there is one at the Jefferson Market Library on the corner of 6th Avenue and 10th Street, one at St. Mark’s Church, on the corner of 2nd Avenue and 10th Street, and one at Judson Memorial Church at the corner of Washington Square South and Thompson Street. I had always assumed they were originally made for horses.
The one at St. Mark’s Church was indeed for horses I have been told. In the 1800s and early 1900s the streets of New York were crowded with horses. Most neighborhoods had horse stables, few of which survive today, but just a few blocks from St. Mark’s Church there was actually a horse auction mart, (which we’ve featured before here on Off the Grid) at 126-128 East 13th Street, and fortunately this building is landmarked. This modest stone fountain is dedicated to the memory of Elizabeth Spingler VanBeuren, who was born March 22, 1831 and died July 22, 1908.
I can picture the aristocracy arriving for Sunday services at the church in their horse-drawn carriages, and while the people were inside the church, the horses were outside enjoying a nice cool drink.
But then I looked at the Judson Memorial Church’s website and found this:
This Baptist church was an anomaly in the wealthy residential district of Washington Square. It functioned as a mission church, stabilizing the neighborhood at the point of transition between the upper class area of the Square and the poorer neighborhood immediately to the west. In order to further this goal, the Judson Hotel – a tower for housing the poor – was added to the church in 1895. The water fountain on the northeast corner of the church provided cool water in the summer to people who couldn’t afford ice. The church’s activist social engagement continued through the 1960’s, and up until today.
I always thought it was for horses! Judging from the size and shape and height, it seemed logical to me.
Then there is the fountain at the Jefferson Market Library. We have written a lot about this wonderful building before, and have done many of our public programs there. And our friends at ephemeralnewyork are also impressed with this fountain. But the question remains, was this fountain for horses or people? The image of the weary traveler over this fountain might indicate that the water was intended for people, but this building was built in the days when horses were everywhere, like people, horses need a drink too.
So who knows the story of the Jefferson Market Library (née Courthouse) fountain? If you do, please let me know.