92-Year-Old Memorial Restored by Civic Clubs
The citizens of Lynchburg, Va., are proud of the completion of the city’s major bicentennial project, the restoration of a historic firemen’s fountain, which was erected in 1884 and destroyed by Hurricane Hazel in 1954.
Behind the unveiling of the 16-foot granite and brass statue last Independence Day is a story of residents overcoming numerous obstacles to pay tribute to all fire fighters and especially their 18 comrades who have died since 1888 while fighting blazes in this central Virginia city.
The idea of restoring the statue grew out of a 1974 fire in Lynchburg. Two fire fighters were killed fighting the downtown blaze when a wall fell on them.
“Everybody was so much aware of the two fire fighters who lost their lives in the 1974 fire,” said Mrs. Margaret Thomasson, one of the chairmen of the Firemen’s Fountain Fund Committee. Richard Jacques, a city official, saw a dog-eared picture of the original iron and bronze statue and he decided it would be the perfect project for the bicentennial celebration.
Clubs sponsor project
Two civic clubs prodded by Jacques, the Altrusa Club and the Alpha Kappa Alpha service group, formed a committee to sponsor the project. The committee began raising funds late in 1974. By early 1975 the committee had obtained an estimate of $2000 to replace the ornate fountain. Things seemed to be well on the way with nobody anticipating the obstacles to come.
The original cast iron and bronze fountain was erected by the city after six volunteers died fighting a downtown fire in 1883. The shock of the tragedy was so great that it led to the establishment of a paid fire department. The fountain stood for years in the heart of the city’s business district.
In the late 1940s, the fountain was moved to the city’s main recreation area, Miller Park. It remained there until it was shattered by a tree that was felled by winds of Hurricane Hazel.
Just when everything seemed to be clicking, the clubs’ members discovered that the $2000 estimate covered only the cost of the statue atop the fountain. The project would have died right then except for the determination of the two clubs to see the project to completion regardless of problems.
Costs rapidly rise
Escalating costs quickly pushed the estimate to around $25,000. When it was decided that bronze was too expensive, volunteer draftsmen redesigned the statue to be made of stone and bronze. After hearing that Vermont granite was more durable and less costly than the proposed materials, the project was redesigned to use granite for the entire fountain except for a brass hose which serves as the fountain head. Atop the hose is an original nozzle to spray the water.
Meanwhile, club members pushed to raise the necessary money from civicminded residents of this 70,000 population city. They also sought assistance on other aspects of the project. They found both in abundance.
The city’s Bicentennial Commission agreed to donate half the money raised from selling bicentennial coins. A local firm selling stone memorials donated time, money and equipment to coordinate the production and location of the fountain in Miller Park. The City Council first agreed to allocate $7000 to prepare the site and install the pool, piping and pump for the fountain. The council later agreed to chip in another $4300 to pay the final bill. A crane company donated the equipment to erect the fountain. And so it went with all aspects of the undertaking right down to reproduction of that old photo of the statue by an artist for a local industrial firm.
Names on tablets
At the base of the fountain, which rises from the center of a 30-foot-diameter pool, are four bronze tablets listing the names of fire fighters who died protecting the city and its citizens.
Completion of the project had been expected late last summer, but work progressed so quickly that it was dedicated on the nation’s 200th birthday.
“It was the only citywide bicentennial project for Lynchburg,” said Lynn Dodge, city librarian.
“It was quite an undertaking for two clubs with a combined membership of 50 persons,” Mrs. Thomasson said, “but we wanted to do something civic-wise for the bicentennial.”