Olcott Park Fountain

Olcott Fountain
Fountain Facts

  • Original fountain construction began in the summer of 1935, in the midst of the Great Depression, under the direction of Parks Department Superintendent Carl Hawkinson.
  • Fountain completed and opened to the public on August 16, 1937.
  • The fountain was a WPA (Works Progress Administration) funded project.
  • The total project cost was $36,005 in 1937 dollars. WPA paid 70% of the cost and the City of Virginia paid 30%.
  • The fountain pool is 40 feet wide and 64 feet long.
  • Observation deck is approximately 120 feet long and 12 feet wide.
  • Pink granite mined from a quarry in Mt. Iron, Minnesota was used in the construction of both the fountain and observation deck.
  • Fountain site design was provided by Landscape Architect Charles Hanford, Jr. from Independence, Missouri.

Fountain History

In the 1930’s, our whole nation was feeling the crushing effects of The Great Depression.  When Franklin Roosevelt became President in 1933, he initiated his New Deal programs, a series of federal interventions intended to blunt the impact of the Depression and revitalize the economy. Among other things, the New Deal created a number of job-creation programs geared to the development of public works projects in cooperation with the states and local communities.

 fountain plansIn 1934, the City of Virginia took advantage of one of these New Deal programs and proposed that an electric fountain within a rock garden be built in Olcott Park.

The city obtained federal approval for the project in 1935 and with WPA labor completed the preliminary excavation and plumbing for the large rectangular, terraced rock garden and fountain located in the center of the northwest quadrangle of the park.  The city hired Charles Hanford, Jr., a landscape architect from Independence, Missouri, to design the fountain, rock garden, and observation deck.  His design for the observation deck followed the Rustic Style with which architects Morell and Nichols had designed the park gates along Ninth Street North.  The design for the fountain structure used the same form of rusticated masonry.

1 - Olcott Park fountain construction 1936In the spring of 1936, the city sought bids for the concrete required for the pool and fountain.  This work was completed by WPA labor during that summer.  At that time the city also sought bids from electrical contractors to supply and install a General Electric Seven-Projector Novalux Electric Fountain.  According to the specifications provided by GE, the projectors would have seven 1500 watt lamps; two with red filters, one with amber, two with green and two with blue. The mechanism would also include a jet ring with 65 jets as well as other nozzles to spray water.  The control system would be completely automatic and capable of producing 60 water and light combinations over a 360 second period.

The Novalux fountain was installed and the masonry completed in the spring and summer of 1937.  The fountain debuted on August 16, 1937 and ran daily.  Its multi-colored water display ran every evening, weather permitting, from 8:30 to 10:00.

Park Superintendent Carl Hawkinson reported that police assistance was needed to control the crowds thronging to see the fountain on opening day, and that interest in the fountain continued unabated until cold weather in the fall necessitated the draining of the pool.

fountain postcardDuring World War II, the whole nation suffered from material shortages brought on by the requirements of fighting the war.  The fountain also suffered.  In 1943, the bronze gears operating the mechanism that produced the constantly changing water jets and colored lights wore out.  It took the park department nearly a year to obtain replacement parts because bronze was a critical war material.  The parts were finally obtained at the end of August, 1944, and the evening color displays were renewed for the final weeks of summer.

The fountain ran continuously during the summer months with minor repairs until into the 1990’s when repair parts became difficult to obtain.  In fact, many of the parts were no longer available and had to be hand made.

During the 1990’s and into the 2000’s, the fountain ran intermittently until it ceased running completely in 2013.  A leaking pool and the inability to obtain repair parts necessitated its closure.

In 2015, a group of city and area citizens, recognizing the historical significance of the fountain and seeing the need to have it repaired, formed a committee with a goal of restoring the fountain, observation deck, and surrounding grounds.  Part of the restoration process included making an application to see if the fountain site qualified to be listed as a national historic site.  As a result, the Olcott Park Fountain was placed on the National Register of Historic Sites in June 2017.

Over the five years between 2015 through 2019 the committee raised $1.1 million dollars.  The restoration of the fountain and surrounding grounds was completed, and a re-dedication event was held on June 13, 2019.

Fountain Restoration Facts

  • Virginia Community Foundation provided non-profit status and fund-raising support and guidance.
  • Fund-Raising began in 2015 with the assistance of John Bachman, Virginia Parks and Recreation Director from 1993 - 2016.
  • Fountain restoration work began in the spring of 2017.
  • Fountain listed on the National Register of Historic Places in June 2017.
  • Fountain restoration completed and opened to the public on June 13, 2019. Parks and Recreation Director Brian Silber
  • Total restoration cost in 2019 of $1.1 million came 60% from private donors and corporate grants, 30% from Iron Range Resources Rehabilitation grants, 10% from the City of Virginia.
  • Restoration architect was Erik Wedge, Principal Architect, DSGW Architectural Services.
  • Contributions received from over 1,400 donors.

Fountain Restoration Committee

fountain committee 2019Eleanor Anshus
John Bachman
Carl Baranzelli
Allan Bier
Kara Bovitz
Joe Caulfield
Kathy Caulfield
Kerry Waschke Collie
John Dickinson
Greg Gilness – Committee Chair
Jane Gilness
Wanda Hamelin
Ronda Harvey
Cammy Hudy
Dennis Jorgensen
Lisa Kvas
Kathy Merkel
Paul Monacelli
Arlene Preble
Michelle Pulkkinen
Kathy Rice
Brian Silber
Don Sipola
JoAnn Sipola
Diane Torrel
Carolyn Tuttle
Dave Tuttle
Scott Weappa
Mary Yapel

Fountain Restoration Donors

The City of Virginia and the Olcott Park Fountain Restoration Committee would like to thank all those who helped make the fountain restoration a great success.

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Falkowski, Priscilla  Mirkovic, Sasa Today, Joseph and Roberta  
Falkowski, William and Rita MLTA LLC Tomassoni, Robert and Patricia  
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Fatticci, Paul and Nancy Moe, Dennis and Donna Town and Country Electric Inc  
Ferkul, Meribeth Mohn, Robert and JoAnn Trenti Law Firm  
Feroni, Dennis and Mary Lou Monacelli, Livia & Gabriel Amundson Trotto, Denise and Art Lee  
Ferrell, David and Patricia Monacelli, Paul and Deb Troutwine, Phil and Mary Kay  
Fields, Chester and Pamela Monacelli, Rylan Trullinger, John  
Fink, Joseph Moore, Katherine Trunzo, John and Judie  
Finstad, Lynette and Richard Moore, Larry and Susan Trunzo, Paula  
Fiola, Lucille F. Morgan, Brian and Denise Trunzo, Richard J  
Fitzpatrick, Joseph Morgan, Elizabeth Tuomela, Susan  
Fivecoate, Barbara J. Morgan, Hattie Turja, Zona  
Fjelstad, Per and Lois Morrell, Wendy Turner, Marie  
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Fontela, Deborah Mowrey, Dave and Betty Tuttle, Carolyn and David  
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Forciea, Mary Ann, MD Mueller, Cory and Tracy Twaddle, Sue and Steve  
Forseth, Paul Munig, Marlene A. Ulland Brothers, Inc  
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Franks, Dewayne and Angie Napoli, Dr. Patrick and Barbara  US Bank Foundation  
Frazee, Betty Nardi, Bob Vainik, Linda  
French, Dawn Natural Harvest Food Coop Van Fleet, Rita  
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Frericks, A. R. Nelson, Ann and Keith Vandervort, Richard and Sheila  
Friedlieb, Helen Nelson, Gail and David Venne, Leroy and Kathleen  
Friends & Family of Helen Nelson Walker Nelson, Lauren Vermillion Financial Services  
Froen, David and Linda Nelson, Margaret L and Raymond E Vessel, Robert  
Gagne, Kenneth Nelson, Virginia H. VFW Crellin-Tini Post 1113 Virginia, MN  
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Gilness, Gary and Connie Norha, Ronald VHS Class of 1970  
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Giorgi, Richard M. Northeast Area Labor Council Vidmar, Bob and Lois  
Goblirsch, Barbara Northern Club, Inc. Vikings Explosives LLC  
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Gold Mountain Entertainment, Inc Northern Engine & Supply, Inc. Village Inn  
Gooden, Susan Northern State Bank of Virginia Vincent, James and Kerry  
Goodyear, Sandra Norvitch, Ben and Marla Virginia Amateur Hockey Assoc  
Gordon, Howard Norvitch, Steve Virginia Community Foundation  
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Goslin, Patricia Novak, Glen Virginia Co-op Credit Union  
Gotham, Loy Nowak, Michael and Joan Virginia Family Dental, PA  
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Grim, Marilyn Ohrt, Ruth Vista North Inc.  
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