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History of the fountain in Main Plaza

PHOTO CAPTION: Main Plaza fountain at night, ca. 1976.

PHOTO CAPTION: Main Plaza fountain at night, ca. 1976.

By Tara V. Kohlenberg —

The world is full of magnificent works of art and sculpture, some of which are centuries old. New Braunfels is even home to one, featuring a female figure and gargoyles. Now somewhat obscured by trees and traffic, the 19th-century Victorian fountain was actually the beginning of our Main Plaza.

In 1845, surveyor Nicholaus Zink was contracted to lay out the town of New Braunfels. He allowed for the Plaza at the junction of San Antonio and Seguin Streets. It has always been oval-shaped. The Plaza was known for many years by New Braunfels citizens as “our park” because no other was available. It was simply a large, flat, clean space in the crossroad where the townspeople gathered for concerts, parades and community events.

The only mode of transportation at that time involved horses or oxen, which both required water. The idea for a central watering hole/fountain on Main Plaza initially came about in 1887. The idea was quashed after complaints by local merchants.

New Braunfels celebrated their 50th anniversary in 1895. In September of that year, Hermann Seele, president of the anniversary celebration committee, approached the city council for permission to erect a water fountain to beautify the Plaza, utilizing surplus funds from the celebration.

The committee chose the fountain design from the J.L. Mott catalog. The cast iron structure, said to be 19 feet tall, features a female figure in Greek-style robes atop two lower pans and a basin. The figure is holding a vase above her head with water that sprays from the top of the vase into the pans below. She is listed as “The Vase Bearer” in the catalog. There are two types of gargoyles (carved faces with spouts that drain water). The top pan is round, decorated with leaves and flourishes, supported by a center column. Water flows into the lower pan from the mouths of stylized sea horses (or maybe griffons) that adorn the center column. The lower pan is octagonal, adorned with eight sheep’s heads spouting water into the octagonal basin made of concrete and metal.

The natural-colored cast iron fountain was purchased from J.L. Mott Company of New York for $3,000 with anniversary funds and donations. After all was said and done, there was a remaining balance of $58.05, which the city paid. It was installed on the Plaza in 1896.

By 1897, there were problems with people watering their stock at the water fountain. To discourage the practice, the city spent $342 to have the fountain area high curbed. Later in 1897, the city began planting shrubs and trees to beautify the Plaza. The Band Stand came along in 1905.

The beautiful work of art took center stage on Main Plaza for years without issue. In 1963, the New Braunfels Lions Club took on the project of refurbishing the fountain and landscape improvement. The fountain was sandblasted and received new lighting, additional sprays and a new off-white paint job. A new rock wall enclosing a planted area was also added. It was indeed a beautiful sight at night.

For many more years, the fountain survived freezing temperatures and drought. It also survived pranksters that found “soaping of the fountain” a novel idea. Soap seriously damages the workings of fountains and is no laughing matter.

1976 brought about a flurry of improvements to go along with the nation’s Bicentennial Celebration. The complete renovation of Main Plaza was the project of the Rotary Club. Eighteen months of planning and $100,000 of work later, Main Plaza was completely redone. The fountain received a new watering system sending the water up instead of down with indirect lighting installed around it. At 80 years old, the Main Plaza fountain was also designated a historic landmark by the New Braunfels Landmark Commission.

The grand fountain’s age began to show. In 1985, the fountain was turned off. The mechanics of the fountain were in good shape, but the cast iron structure was succumbing to sheet rust on all of the interior surfaces. She was slowly rusting to death.

In 1992, Mayor Clinton Brandt formed the Plaza Fountain Restoration Committee. They were in for a shock when they sought restoration quotes. Yikes! That little $3,000 fountain needed $50,000 of work!

The two-year fundraising campaign raised $54,000. The Mott fountain was fully restored to her original cast iron color by Robinson Iron of Alexander City, Alabama. It took approximately four months. Robinson Iron had restored at least sixteen other Mott fountains previously. At the time, there were known to be about 35-40 Mott Company fountains left in the United States, with ours being one of the finest.

The fountain once again took her place on her pedestal in December of 1993, a full year before the slated Sesquicentennial Celebration in 1995, and all was right in the universe. Except — a drunk driver plowed through Main Plaza in November 1994, shattering the fountain and causing $50,000 in damages. The driver was not insured, nor was the car he was driving. Robinson Iron repaired the 100-year-old fountain and returned it to its rightful place by the end of January 1995 in time for the Sesquicentennial events.

Fast forward to today — our precious fountain is 128 years old. Sadly, due to water restrictions, the fountain is turned off. She looks a little rough but is still a treasure. Come see her up close and personal. No ticket required.

She will be waiting for you to join her on Main Plaza for the Ol’ Fashion Fourth of July Parade and Patriotic Program which has been presented by the Sophienburg Museum and Archives in collaboration with the City of New Braunfels since 1978. Wear your Star-Spangled-Banner best and be there!

Sources: Sophienburg Museum & Archives; Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Inventories of American Painting and Sculpture database.