The following article originally appeared in the 2021 edition of Ramblings.
Part of downtown Nantucket looked strikingly different for much of 2020 and early 2021, and it wasn’t just the people dining on sidewalks and signs reading Mask Zone: on March 4, a motorist, his vision impaired by the setting sun, struck and toppled the Lieutenant Max Wagner Memorial Fountain at the foot of Main Street. After a year’s long absence, Nantucket’s Department of Public Works re-installed the fountain on March 11, 2021, following a complete restoration stewarded by Cassidy Brother’s Forge of Rowley, Massachusetts.
The fountain was originally installed in 1882 and served as a spot for people to water their horses downtown. It has been located on various locations around Main Street, but since 1932, it has been dedicated to Lt. Wagner, a Nantucketer who was killed in the Philippines while serving in the U.S. Army in the Spanish-American War.
Though the fountain was struck in March, closures due to COVID-19 and a lengthy insurance arbitration process meant that restoration and repair work on the fountain could not begin until late August. When work began, the team at Cassidy Brothers discovered that extensive repair work was needed. The fountain has been hit and damaged by vehicles multiple times in its history, and investigation showed that repairs had been made with varying degrees of craftmanship and attention to detail over the years. Cassidy Brothers pulled the original patent records for the fountain, which dates to 1880, to inform their work. The fountain was broken into its component parts, the previous well-intentioned repairs were removed, and layers of old paint and rust were stripped away. The fountain way re-painted in a pale green color with high gloss industrial polyurethane protectant, picked to match the color from the last time the fountain was repainted, in 2017.
A goal of the restoration was to allow the fountain to once again function as a water feature. The four cast-iron fish through which water originally flowed were badly pitted and marred with rust. One was in good enough condition to use to create a mold for repairing the other fish. In addition to recasting the fish, Cassidy Brothers used the patent plans to recreate the internal waterworks of the fountain, which had rusted away. Copper piping and a pump will allow water to circulate from the fountain’s bowl, up through the pole, through the mouths of the fish.
DPW Director Rob McNeil says the department intends to have water flowing through the fountains on special occasions like the Daffodil Weekend car parade and the Fourth of July. At other times, the Nantucket Garden Club will continue to fill the fountain’s basin with colorful floral displays.
A rededication service for the fountain is being planned for later in 2021, dependent on public health guidelines. Descendants of Lt. Wagner, who still reside on Nantucket, will be in attendance. After its yearlong absence, we are happy to see the fountain back in its regular place: may it be many more years before it is in need of another repair.
Mark Voight passed away on May 1, 2021. We will remember him for his dedication to preservation on Nantucket.