The Old Watering Hole
January 5, 2014 12:48 PM   Subscribe

Long before the temperence movement went nuclear in 1919, they tried other ways to stem the tide of alcohol consumption in the United States. In 1874, the Women's Christian Temperance Union hatched a plan to build public drinking fountains across the country in order to offer people an alternative to going into saloons to have a drink. While the project probably wasn't as effective as the ladies of the WCTU would have liked, many of these fountains still stand today.

Each fountain was planned and constructed by the individual chapters of the organization, which resulted in numerous unique designs. Some are very elaborate, others less so, and a few are quite beloved.

Alabama: Huntsville
California: Boulder Creek, Chino, Fowler, Hanford, Madera, Ontario, Petaluma, Riverside and Watsonville
Delaware: Rehoboth Beach
Georgia: Atlanta
Idaho: Boise
Illinois: Chicago
Indiana: Bloomington
Iowa: Shenandoah
Louisiana: Baton Rouge
Maine: Portland
Massachusetts: Brockton, Conway, Holyoke, Lee and Orange
Michigan: Spring Lake
Nevada: Reno
New Jersey: Cranbury, Ocean City and Salem
New Mexico: Las Vegas
New York: Fredonia
Ohio: Richmond
Oregon: La Grande and Roseburg
Pennsylvania: Bethlehem, Coudersport and Reading
Rhode Island: Block Island
Vermont: Norwich
Virginia: Richmond
Washington: Anacortes and Olympia
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI (23 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

Interesting, thanks! I hadn't heard about these.

Also, the one in Rhode Island should properly be termed a bubbler because that's what we call them.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 1:10 PM on January 5 [2 favorites]

Here's the London copy of the Fountain Girl
posted by Azara at 1:39 PM on January 5

You forgot the truly hideous example in Washington DC!
posted by ActionPopulated at 1:39 PM on January 5

Portland's iconic Benson Bubblers were another attempt to keep folks out of saloons. (I don't think I realized there were so many of them.)
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 1:53 PM on January 5 [2 favorites]

"Work sucks, my kids are driving me up a fuckin' wall, and I could kill for some sliders and a few cold beers. Oh, hold on, here's some tepid water trickling into a basin full of loogies - and it's free!"
posted by codswallop at 2:16 PM on January 5 [11 favorites]

"Work sucks, my kids are driving me up a fuckin' wall, and I could kill for some sliders and a few cold beers. Oh, hold on, here's some tepid water trickling into a basin full of loogies - and it's free!"

Yeah, that's clearly not going to happen, but I'm not sure the whole idea is as crazy as it sounds because I think the plan is to prevent people from going into the saloons in the first place if they're legitimately just thirsty. There have definitely been times where I'm like "Oh, I will go into this bar just for a few minutes for a place to sit down. As long as I'm here, perhaps I'll wet my whistle. Another? Why thank you!" and then by the time I leave it seems like a good idea to stop in at another bar on the way home (NB I am not a model of temperance).

I mean, yeah, these wouldn't prevent anyone who was actually going looking for a drink from having one, but I think it's easy to underestimate the importance of that first step and how much little things like providing an alternative can have an effect. It won't deter anyone who's set on drinking but creating a non-bar space to get some water could actually matter.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 2:21 PM on January 5 [6 favorites]

I recently did an incredible walking tour of Portland that addressed the rationale for this.

It has public drinking fountains installed in 1912 by a local philanthropist to keep people out of the saloons at lunch time. As I recall, the place a workingman got cheap lunch was at a saloon. Beer came free with lunch. They charged for water.

I don't know if that's true, but it certainly seems likely the saloons would give the first beer free, and that an employer would want workers sober after lunch.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 2:35 PM on January 5

Oops, I missed the earlier reference. Sorry fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit!
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 2:36 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

It's so hard not to read this like some kind of troll. Like, "Oh really? You're drinking because you're thirsty? Okay, if you say so..."
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 3:35 PM on January 5

New Jersey: ... Ocean City

Yeah, still a dry town. Thank heavens the fountain is there since I have no other way to get a drink without a saloon.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:37 PM on January 5 [2 favorites]

"Work sucks, my kids are driving me up a fuckin' wall, and I could kill for some sliders and a few cold beers. Oh, hold on, here's some tepid water trickling into a basin full of loogies - and it's free!"

Back in the olden days, people drank seven times as much beer and twice the hard liqour as they do these days (and note that those numbers were for every American over the age of 15), because yes, drinking water simply wasn't as available as it is for us. When the temperance movement was at its peak, they weren't talking about a guy who wanted a few beers -- they were talking about a guy who'd already had a few beers before he left the house and was continuing to drink throughout the day because it was what there was to drink.
posted by Etrigan at 3:45 PM on January 5 [9 favorites]

OK, I have walked by that fountain in front of the Monroe County Courthouse in Bloomington, Indiana many times, and apparently never realized it was a water fountain once. Looks like it's been moved around the building several times and it's probably not even close to a water line anymore.

Shame, because these kids could probably have used an alternative drink last week. Oh, Bloomington.
posted by asperity at 4:10 PM on January 5

asperity, that's exactly the sort of person I associate with the Vid.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:36 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

Sounds more like Brothers material to me.
posted by Standard Orange at 5:51 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

I worry sometimes that public drinking fountains are dying out. They'll most likely live on in places like Portland, Ore., and Hot Springs, Ark., where they're part of the local history and culture, but I feel like I see a lot of dried up, nonfunctioning drinking fountains here in Missouri.
posted by limeonaire at 7:15 PM on January 5

I was confused for a moment when I read the FPP, thinking to myself, "Why would the WCTU have built fountains that dispensed free booze?" I'm still so annoyed by the fact these things were merely water fountains that it prevents me from appreciating their beauty.
posted by KingEdRa at 7:27 PM on January 5

A bar without a drink is right up there with ordering a salad as a meal at a steakhouse. It is a very, very difficult thing for many to do.
posted by buzzman at 7:40 PM on January 5 [2 favorites]

You forgot the truly hideous example in Washington DC!

The Cogswell Fountains were actually separate from the ones created by the WCTU, though Henry Cogswell had the same goal.

Apparently the communities that received his fountains had a similar opinion of his artistic style as you do, ActionPopulated, as a number of them were torn down and destroyed by community members. It takes a special kind of ugly statue to prompt an angry mob.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 7:50 PM on January 5

I've seen these around in American cities. I've never seen one that worked, or that wasn't so filthy that I wouldn't let a dog drink out of it.
posted by 1adam12 at 11:06 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

Great find, AlonzoMosleyFBI.

The older I get, the weirder and deeper Prohibition seems to me. I was born in the US in 1967, and that movement was pretty invisible in my world, beyond exciting stories of gangsters.
posted by doctornemo at 9:23 AM on January 6

I've seem some historians claim that Prohibition was successful in that it triggered a big, lasting shift in the number of people who drank at home with family and friends rather than by themselves (or with "beer buddies") at a bar.
posted by straight at 10:08 AM on January 6

In Philadelphia's Fairmount Park (in front of the Mann) stands one of the few remnants of the 1876 Centennial: The Catholic Total Abstinence Fountain. It's a truly gawdy piece of sculpture, featuring statues of various temperance advocates including, um, Moses.

Not sure how popular it was during the Centennial. I'm guessing this one drew bigger crowds.

The fountain is now overgrown with urban weed trees. Love to see it restored.
posted by sixpack at 10:38 AM on January 6

Since every single thing I know about temperance or the WCTU came from David F Musto's class on this stuff (that he taught for some seemingly innumerable number of years), I am mentally spilling some for the memory of DFM. RIP, Dr Musto.
posted by Vcholerae at 10:54 PM on January 6

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