Iconic Hamilton fountain damaged in vintage car crash undergoing restoration in Alabama

A historic Hamilton fountain that was damaged in a car crash last fall is undergoing repairs in Alabama and is expected to be back in place later this year.

On Oct. 16, 1957 Buick Special convertible was traveling northbound on Martin Luther King Boulevard and failed to stop at a red light because of mechanical issues. It was hit by a 2015 Ford Fusion that was traveling westbound on High Street.

The collision sent the Buick into the small park at the northwest corner of the intersection, where Hebe, Nymph of Brooks and Streams, the original public drinking fountain in Hamilton, sat. The fountain was a gift to the city in 1890 by First National Bank.

According to a history of the bank that was published for the bank’s 75th anniversary in 1938, the public drinking fountain was “much sought by man and animal.”

The fountain, which originally was on High Street, near the bank’s main entrance, had water containers for horses and dogs.

City of Sculptures officials, whose non-profit organization buys, installs and cares for public sculptures in Hamilton, initially believed the fountain might be a complete loss. City of Sculpture hosts Hamilton’s IceFest every other winter as a fundraiser for its work.

The late Hamilton historian Jim Blount told this media outlet in 2013, the year the fountain was moved to the intersection of High and MLK, that the fountain was discarded in 1928 to clear the way for construction of the First National Bank building. So for 47 years, it was at a Haldimand Avenue home.

But First National Bank re-obtained it in 1975 as it prepared for the 1976 U.S. Bicentennial. After it was restored at the Hamilton Foundry, it was returned to the front of the bank in 1976, according to the 2013 article.

Local art lovers’ hopes were uplifted shortly after the wreck when representatives from Robinson Iron of Alexander City, Alabama, indicated they could repair Hebe, pronounced HEE-bee.

“One of the owners drove up in November to assess the fountain and provide us with a proposal for the work,” said Taylor Welch, who is with City of Sculpture and Community Design Alliance. “They’ve worked on many similar fountains, iron fencing/gates, and many other things ranging from outdoor furniture to planters.”

A company truck picked up all the fountain’s pieces in mid-December. Because other fountains were in line first, the company so far has only cataloged the pieces and assessed them.

After all the pieces are cleaned, tagged and catalogued, the company will provide City of Sculpture drawings, similar to blueprints, to show the scope of work. Once those are approved, Robinson Iron will make repairs and replace parts that can’t be fixed. The company originally estimated about a quarter of pieces couldn’t be repaired or reused.

As part of the project, Hebe will receive a “verdigris” color, similar to the greenish tint of the Statue of Liberty that copper and brass gets when they weather. That’s the color City of Sculpture believes Hebe originally was, and that coloring was common for public fountains of that era, Welch said.

“Hebe will be re-installed late this summer or maybe into the fall,” he said. “It’s not an easy thing to predict seeing as the work is complicated and labor intensive.”

The StreetSpark program is producing a mural on a building’s wall behind the Hebe location this summer. That mural, whose design has not been announced, will be painted on the eastern wall of the Max Stacey Flowers building, which faces the High/MLK intersection.

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