Richard Warner, D.D.S.
Warner Family Dentistry in Council Bluffs
Richard Warner, D.D.S. General Dentistry in Council Bluffs, Iowa
Fountain a Bayliss Park Centerpiece for Over 125 Years
Bayliss is the city’s oldest park, made possible by a donation of land from businessman Colonel Samuel Bayliss in 1853. Colonel Bayliss actually intended the block as the site for the Pottawattamie County court house. For a decade the square was mostly a weed-infested plot dotted with a few native cottonwood trees. Some neighbors used portions of it for their gardens. In 1866 the county bought property two blocks south for the court house. Bayliss, having suffered some financial setbacks since the original donation, sought to have the land returned to his ownership. Though he died during the legal proceedings his wife continued the action, which ultimately was decided in favor of the city.
Council Bluffs' first Park Commissioner, Andrew Graham, worked aggressively to improve and expand the city’s park system, and part of that effort included turning Bayliss Park into an esthetic city square. Maple and elm trees were planted and a wooden bandstand constructed at the center. In 1887 prominent businessman W.A. Maurer suggested to Commissioner Graham that a fountain might make a good centerpiece. Graham liked the idea but was concerned about the cost. Not long afterward Maurer was in New York on business and discovered an ornamental cast iron fountain at the J. L. Mott Iron Works that had been built for another community up for sale for $3000. He took a thirty-day option and returned to Council Bluffs with an enthusiastic description of his bargain. The city found the money and made the purchase in April of 1890. Rust was removed, the fountain repainted, and it was up and running by July 4.
Water was drawn from the fire plug at the corner of Pearl and First Avenue supplying not just the ornamental fountain but a small fountain for drinking as well. The latter was kept cool by a coil of pipes running through an underground casing into which ice was placed each morning. For the convenience of the public a drinking cup was fastened to the faucet by a chain. Lest the thought of hundreds of park patrons sharing the same cup seem unsanitary, rest assured there was some oversight. On at least one occasion the park police officer chided a citizen for allowing his dog to partake from the communal cup.
The fountain’s original design had the figure of a hobo standing at the top, but the park commissioners substituted two boys holding a duck with water squirting from its mouth. The middle tier featured the figures of four boys blowing water through shells. The fountain operated for over seventy years. By the 1960s the once ornate source of pride was becoming thought more an archaic rust bucket. The park board lamented in 1965 the pool “leaked like a sieve” and the water-spouting statues were held together with wire. In short, it was beyond repair. A new state-of-the-art fountain featuring programable “dancing waters” with colored lights was installed in 1971 and “old rusty” would up unceremoniously laying in a scrap heap behind a work shed in Big Lake Park adjacent to the Chicago & Northwestern tracks.
Fond memories of sitting near the old fountain as a youth prompted Abe Katelman to donate the services of Katelman Foundry to restore the relic. Original parts were pieced back together where possible and remade if needed. Original photos showed four cupids and two swans; three of the cupids were located but both swans had vanished. The new top level featured a brass boy and girl. The restored fountain was placed adjacent to the Dodge House in 1973, and in 2000 moved to its current location between Pearl and Main Streets at West Broadway where it continues to operate today, over 125 years after its arrival in town.
The replacement fountain didn't last as long. First the colored light program failed then the variable water no longer worked. In 2004 it was discovered the pipes carrying the thousands of gallons of water to the fountain were badly corroded and in danger of bursting. A stopgap measure to get the water back on would have cost about $70,000 with long term repairs much greater.
A citywide campaign raised sufficient money not to just build a new fountain but to reinvent the entire park in 2006. A stage was incorporated into the plaza oriented in such a manner to allow the audience to have their backs to the setting sun. Six black squirrel sculptures were placed at levels that children can touch them and several “child activated” water sprays emanate from the plaza floor. The fountain itself is made up of eight arching nozzles and a ring of twenty-four water spray jets.
Story by Dr. Richard Warner