Monday, December 11, 2006

Bronze Heron

On a walk downtown this weekend, I encountered this bronze heron.

The bird stands atop the Temperance Fountain (pictured right) at the corner of Indiana Avenue and 7th Street, NW. A temperance advocate gave the fountain to the city in 1882 to encourage the consumption of water instead of alcohol. Temperance advocates of the late nineteenth century saw the elimination of alcohol as the solution to a host of health and societal problems. They sought to promote temperance by a variety of means, from publicity campaigns to legal maneuvers, and eventually prohibition. Henry Cogswell's contribution was building and donating water fountains. When it was first built, Washington's Temperance Fountain dispensed cooled drinking water to passersby. Once the fountain had outlived its original purposes, the city stopped supplying water. Apparently the Washington fountain's influence did not extend very far, since for years it stood adjacent to a liquor store.

The stone canopy originally covered a drinking fountain. Water from the fountain was distributed from the mouths of two fanciful dolphins (pictured left) underneath the canopy. No, they do not look like real dolphins, but conform to traditional depictions of dolphins. (The monument in the background honors the Grand Army of the Republic.) The connection of herons and dolphins to temperance is pretty slim, as far as I can tell. Rather, their use on the fountain is probably due to their association with water.

Note: The same philanthropist who donated the Temperance Fountain to Washington also donated a different design to New York (see here for a picture).