A judge at the Port Huron Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse wrote us with some questions about a long ago fountain and its missing statues. Digging deep into the National Archives led to some interesting discoveries.
The mystery began when Mike Connell wrote a pair of columns for the Port Huron, Mich., Times Herald describing a fountain with two semi-clad female statues dubbed “Mag and Mayme” that stood in front of the building for 35 years before “disappearing” quite suddenly. Although Connell’s research answered many questions, others remained. Why did they disappear? Where did they come from in the first place? Was an artist commissioned to create them? Are there other similar fountains? Thanks to research in the Supervising Architect of the Treasury’s records at the National Archives in College Park, Md., those questions can now be answered.
The fountain and cast iron sculptures arrived at the site unceremoniously in 1878. At Michigan Representative Omar D. Conger’s urging (he had been largely responsible for drafting the bill that funded the construction), the fountain, including the two statues, was purchased from the J.W. Fiske Ornamental Iron Works company out of New York for $875. The construction supervisor declared it complete in the letter dated July 25, 1878, and said it presented “a very nice appearance.” For many years it graced the corner of Water and Sixth Streets providing a bit of Classical inspiration for the bustling port town.
By 1913, however, the fountain had fallen out of favor. On September 5, 1913, the custodian of Port Huron received a letter from Washington about a petition from local businessmen to have the fountain removed, and soon a government inspector was on site to assess the situation. His report from October 13, 1913, is telling. He recommended the removal of the “old, rusted and needing of repair” fountain for a laundry list of reasons:
- It is out of scale.
- The winter cover is “large and barn-like and considered unsightly”.
- Because it is so near the curb, the mist is a public nuisance, especially to the ladies, and it also freezes in winter and spring.
- The subject matter may have been appropriate at the time of its installation, but “in this age of modern society and general censorship it is said to be considered morally objectionable” and the figures are subject to ridicule by the local papers (as also referenced in Mr. Connell’s article). The inspector found that the city park commissioner wouldn’t erect such a fountain in a public park because of the “nudity complained of”.
- The custodian complains of finding dead dogs in the catch basin and children have nearly drowned.
- The basin is a catch-all for rubbish.
At first it appeared the fountain would be sold for scrap for a mere $22.50, but since that price didn’t meet the valuation placed upon it by the government, that sale did not go through. It was subsequently revalued, sold to the Lighthouse Department and moved to Fort Gratiot, Mich., where, according to Mr. Connell, it stood until 1932 when it met “an inglorious end” as a result of a lighthouse expansion project.
The story doesn’t necessarily end there, however. Because we can now trace the fountain to a specific manufacturer, we can see if other similar fountains are extant, which indeed they are. There are versions of the fountain in Delaware County, N.Y.; Washington Courthouse, Ohio; Edisto, S.C.; and most interestingly, one called the Maids of the Mist on the other side of the state in St. Joseph. There the statues are known as Constance and Patience, and thanks to a fellow lover of Victorian-era beauty, there is a video of it online.