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Fountain to crown Tattnall park efforts

A near replica of a century-old fountain could grace the center of Tattnall Square Park within the next few months.

“I would like to have the fountain ready to be installed by March, and I would like the fountain to be in place by the return of classes in August,” said Andrew Silver, chairman of Friends of Tattnall Square Park, who also is an English professor at Mercer University.

That may be too ambitious, but after several years of work toward this goal, the group wants to move as swiftly as possible, he said.

This month Macon-Bibb County commissioners authorized the new fountain, also allowing the sale of bricks in a surrounding plaza to pay for further beautification.

Silver said he wanted to get the government’s stamp of approval before final talks with a potential donor. He said he has a tentative commitment for $190,000, but he isn’t ready to release details.

“I’m as confident as I can be without seeing construction actually begin that this will become a reality,” Silver said.

The John S. & James L. Knight Foundation has contributed $80,000, which will pay for the fountain’s installation and a stone-faced “inner pool,” he said. But the total cost of the project is likely to be $300,000 at a minimum, Silver said.

“We are going to raise an additional, probably, $24,000,” he said.

Once the fountain is in place, Mercer President Bill Underwood has offered to pay for fountain maintenance, estimated at $16,500 per year.

“The president made the commitment to maintain the Tattnall Square fountain because the park is used a great deal by our students, faculty and staff,” Larry Brumley, Mercer senior vice president for marketing communications, said by email. The park is just across Coleman Avenue from Mercer’s campus.

“We can do the maintenance for less than it would cost to reimburse the city for the work,” he said.

Macon-Bibb government will pay the fountain’s water and electric bills, which are expected to be minimal, said Dale “Doc” Dougherty, Macon-Bibb’s Parks & Recreation director.

HISTORIC MODEL

Tattnall Square Park’s history goes back to the 19th century when the state deeded 16 acres for it, Silver said. Not much was done there for decades, in keeping with the old view of parks as just a public commons. But as that concept shifted nationwide, a plan emerged for Tattnall Square, he said. Silver learned of a parallel to the current Friends group when he researched the vanished fountain.

“I started looking in the files at Washington Library and in special collections at Mercer University,” he said. “One of the first things I found was this description of the Tattnall Square Improvement Association that came into being in 1913.”

That group had heavy Mercer involvement too, as it laid out a formal plan for the park which included a cast-iron central fountain, Silver said.

Even after the original fountain stopped working, people kept having their pictures taken near it, he said. It was hauled away as scrap in the 1960s, but a salvage worker kept one of the cast-iron frogs that once adorned its base. The salvage worker gave it to his son, Al Wise, now of Savannah, Silver said.

“That frog is now sitting on my mantel. We’re going to make an exact replica, if we can do it,” Silver said. The group would like to cast extras to hide throughout the park, he said.

Friends member John Carter has written a story, being illustrated by local artists, using the frogs as characters. “The Frogs of Tattnall Square Park” takes readers through major events in the park’s past and will be used as a fundraiser.

MODERN PLANS

A five-member committee worked on the new fountain design, while landscape architect Robert Apsley designed the surrounding space for free, Silver said.

“We didn’t just want to plop a fountain down in the middle of concrete. We wanted to create a beautiful space to approach the fountain and a beautiful space to sit and enjoy the fountain,” he said.

The latest of many changes to the park in recent years is a landscaped walkway that cuts diagonally across it, following the historic Creek Indian trade route and later Old Federal Road. Such a path once existed but has been gone for decades, Silver said.

The fountain will soon, as before, sit at the walkway’s midpoint.

Members of the Friends group studied old pictures of the original fountain. The fountain now at the corner of Third and Cherry streets was put up around the same time and resembled the one in Tattnall Square, Silver said.

Then the group contacted Robinson Iron of Alexander City, Alabama, the “preeminent” foundry recommended for ornamental fountain work, he said.

The old fountain’s design was matched as closely as possible with pieces still being made, he said.

“Robinson Iron has a pretty huge inventory of design templates that have already been created,” Silver said.

Rising 17.5 feet from a small pedestal, the fountain will have four bowls of decreasing size. Water will drip from the smallest bowl at the top into successively larger, lower bowls.

“We decided to go, at least as of now, with a drip fountain in part because those are the easiest to maintain,” Silver said. “Any fountain is going to require maintenance, and the more regular maintenance it gets the less long-term problems it will have.”

CROWNING EFFORT

Friends of Tattnall Square Park has put thousands of hours of volunteer work into areas of the park other than the tennis center, funded by individual donations and the Knight Foundation. Money from the state, Mercer University and Macon-Bibb County is redoing the College Street frontage. Volunteers planted 215 trees this year, the most since the park’s 1913 wave of work.

And the special purpose local option sales tax passed in 2011 included $500,000 for the park, with another $200,000 added this year. Most of that went to major work on and around the Tattnall Square Tennis Center.

Macon-Bibb staff are happy to partner with the Friends group, especially since there wasn’t enough SPLOST money to do everything that was asked for, Dougherty said. The tax money went to the tennis center since tournaments draw visitors to local hotels and restaurants, he said.

The local government’s work has been “absolutely instrumental” in encouraging private donations, but much more was needed to start turning the park into a centerpiece for the College Hill Corridor’s revitalization, Silver said.

The park’s center is now almost a symbol of blight, featuring a bare flagpole, a couple of bushes and frequent tire tracks, he said. The fountain that replaces them should be the park’s -- and area’s -- crown jewel, Silver said.

Its successful installation will stand for a model public-private partnership that can be emulated elsewhere, Macon-Bibb spokesman Chris Floore said.

“What’s great about the partnerships that have been forged around the multiple Tattnall Square Park projects is there is an engaged group of residents that are leading the charge to make the improvements and give them a deeper meaning and connection to the past,” he said by email. “It would be great to have more groups working so diligently on parks in their neighborhoods, whether that’s volunteer efforts, raising funds, or developing neighborhood programming. I know (Silver) has met with several other groups that have shown an interest in learning from their success, so I hope we see similar improvements and support in other areas.”

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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