Golf statues aren't Augusta's only hidden treasure

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Posterity gives every man his true value.

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-- Publius Cornelius Tacitus

I never met Hermon Lee Ensign.

I'd never heard of him before last week, when I came across his achievements in a book, but I think I would have liked him.

In the late 1800s, Mr. Ensign was a successful newspaper executive who was also fond of dogs and horses. He decided to bequeath his modest fortune to help four-legged creatures across America.

Through the National Alliance for Animals, an organization he founded, Mr. Ensign commissioned more than 100 granite fountains to be distributed to cities around America and elsewhere.

The fountains, many of them quarried and constructed in Maine, were unusual.

The main feature was a large bowl, not unlike a massive bird bath. The water was fed into it on three sides by spigots featuring a brass lion's head. The fourth side included a plaque proudly announcing Hermon (Yes, he spelled it with an "o") Ensign's gift. Around the base of the fountain were smaller bowls, which also captured and provided water.

Horses could get a drink from the larger fountain bowl. Dogs from the lower ones. And I suppose a human could put a cup beneath a lion's head spigot and get a drink, too.

Between 1907 and 1911, the fountains were delivered to cities in 44 states across America. Oklahoma City got one. So did Denver, and Marietta, Ga., Abbeville, S.C., and Clarksville, Tenn.

And Augusta got one, too.

That's what intrigued me. According to The Chronicle's account in June 1906, the city had accepted the generous donation, which was eventually placed at Walton Way and 15th Street.

You and I know there's no fountain there now, so I wondered what happened to it.

In our computer archives I found a 1965 newspaper article that mentioned it, but mostly to complain that people kept hitting it with their cars. I figured it had just been hauled away -- its polished stone crushed into gravel -- or rolled into the nearby Augusta Canal.

But you know what? We hadn't lost it at all. We had simply misspelled "Hermon."

Almost as an afterthought, I began running computer archive searches for "Ensign" and "fountain," and a 1970 story popped up. For whatever reason, the reporter misspelled the name of "Herman" Ensign.

This story told how Mrs. Rodney Sneed Cohen, an Augusta Garden Club mover and shaker -- had succeeded in getting the old fountain moved from storage in a city barn and set up in a location free from automobile traffic. That spot was the lawn of the old Medical College on Telfair Street.

The fountain's still there 39 years later.

I went over the other morning and found the water no longer flows and the big bowl that once refreshed horses is full of leaves. The smaller bowls at its base are blocked by a ring of ornamental shrubbery.

But you know, it's somewhat comforting to know it's still there and we still have it -- no longer functioning.

Maybe it even suggests a city motto: "This is Augusta; we never throw anything away."

Reach Bill Kirby at (706) 823-3344 or bill.kirby@augustachronicle.com.

Comments (3) Add comment
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htj
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htj 08/16/09 - 08:18 am
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I grew up on 15th St.

I grew up on 15th St. probably 200 yards from where that fountain stood. As kids, we used to cool our feet in it also. It was a very pretty fountain when it was flowing water. We passed it every day on our way to Allen Park, and yes, over time, it did take the brunt of errant drivers. But as you know, growth finally did it in, as Walton Way and 15th St. added more lanes. Once again, those were the good 'ol days.

writerrick
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writerrick 08/16/09 - 11:34 am
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It would be nice to see it

It would be nice to see it "reborn" and perhaps moved to a heavier traffic site say along River Walk. I've seen some mighty thirsty dogs down there from time to time.......

tstoney
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tstoney 08/17/09 - 02:11 pm
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Mr Bill, Why not mount a

Mr Bill, Why not mount a campaign to move it down by the riverwalk area?
Sounds kike a reasonable thing to do. If a good man donated something, seems like we ought to maintain it for it's intended purpose.

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