Forsyth Park

The Forsyth Park historical marker was dedicated on September 19, 2001. View the Forsyth Park historical marker listing.


Historical Background

Created by SCAD student Andrew Sherman as part of his SCAD art history department coursework, with guidance from art history professor Holly Goldstein, Ph.D., 2014.

Forsyth Park has been one of the main attractions in the city of Savannah, Georgia since the park’s humble beginnings in the 1840s. Originally a small 10-acre lot called Hodgson Park, it was later expanded in 1851 and renamed Forsyth Park, the 30-acre park visitors know today. The iconic Forsyth Fountain was placed in the park in 1858. Throughout its 156-year life, it has become a distinctly recognizable landmark of Savannah. However, the fountain that symbolizes Savannah may not be as unique as we imagine.

In 1854, the editor of the Savannah Daily Morning News quoted an article from Alabama’s Mobile Times that spoke of the beauty of the fountains found in Paris and asked, “Shall we not have a fountain in Savannah?” The editor urged readers to think about how refreshing a fountain would be at the end of a hot day. The editorial stated,

If the reader does not feel disposed at once to answer our inquiry in the affirmative, we beg him to lay down the paper till he comes home to dinner today and if, when he sinks into his arm chair and throws open his vest gasping for a full breath of fresh air, his eyeballs sored by the sun burnished brick walls and pavements and with perspiration gushing from his every pore – if he does not then long for the sign of a sparkling, splashing, cooling fountain in every square in the city – why then we will consider it utterly useless to make any further appeals to him and will set him down as an incurable anti-fountain man.[i]

 

It was this article that likely prompted the public’s interest in establishing Savannah’s own ornamental fountain. A few years later, in 1858, the city council appointed a committee that would choose a fountain for Forsyth Park.[ii]

The iconic fountain was selected out of a catalogue of ornamental ironwork by Janes, Beebe & Company of New York (fig. 1). The design selected, known simply as No. 5., was one of a handful of elaborate fountain designs featured in the catalogue and was said to have cost the city $3,000 to install (fig. 2).[iii] The No. 5. design is modeled after a fountain that was created by Michel Joseph Napoleon Lienard and cast by the J.P.V. Andre Iron Foundry in Paris. The inspiration for the design was found at the Great Exhibition of 1851 at the Crystal Palace in London, where a representative of Janes, Beebe & Company was sent to gain insight into the manufacturing of ornaments for gardens and grounds.[iv] Originally, the inspiration for the Forsyth Fountain was thought to be a similarly designed fountain located in Place de la Concorde, Paris. However, enough information exists to draw the conclusion that Janes, Beebe & Company used the pattern exhibited at the Crystal Palace in London as the inspiration.[v]

Installation began six weeks after the Forsyth Fountain was purchased and was closely watched with excitement by the public. Crowds gathered for the moment the fountain would be turned on, but the Savannah Daily Morning News noted, “Baring [sic] the fact that the tritons, like some of our stump speakers, spout a little too strong, it does admirably.”[vi] The public found the operation of the fountain unsatisfactory after a few months and adjustments were quickly made to improve upon the original design. The basin of the fountain was expanded and the four tritons, which were situated at the base, were placed further out into the basin pool. Urns took the old place of the tritons and swans were added to the basin pool to balance out the tritons and the new design.[vii] Finally, with the addition of a railing surrounding the fountain, the improvements were complete and the fountain was considered a success.

Throughout the Forsyth Fountain’s lifespan it has seen a fair share of improvements and it has fallen into disrepair many times due to neglect, deterioration, vandals, and severe weather. However, the city and private individuals have always come to its rescue and restored it to its original conditions. The fountain has endured corroded and clogged pipes, the addition of recirculating pumps, and numerous paint applications. Not surprisingly, the most damage the fountain has sustained has come from vandals and poor weather. In 1973, vandals decided to ravage and demolish all of the tritons. Luckily, enough pieces survived for one triton to be restored and copies were made from this sculpture to replace the lost half-men, half-fish. In February of 1977, a drastic drop in temperature froze the flowing fountain and encased it in ice. Due to the weight of the ice and a few mischievous young boys throwing rocks at the icicles on the top basin of the fountain, the statue eventually toppled over due to an imbalance in weight. Again, the pieces were gathered and reconstructed, and the lady was given a fresh coat of paint and placed back on top of the fountain to reclaim her throne.[viii]

Savannah was the first city to have a No. 5. fountain from Janes, Beebe & Company, but it was not the only city to install one. Exact duplicates can still be found today in Cuzco, Peru; Madison, Indiana; and Poughkeepsie, New York. With a few small differences, each fountain is almost an exact replica of Forsyth Park’s fountain (fig. 3). While all of the fountains feature two tiers, four tritons and water birds, the fountain in Cuzco, Peru has no statue adorning the top (fig. 4). The fountain in Poughkeepsie, New York, known as the Soldiers’ Memorial, was restored in 1989 and still stands as it was originally designed (fig. 5). Madison, Indiana’s fountain – known as the Broadway Fountain – was twice saved from being scrapped by the city and was eventually fully restored in 1976 (fig. 6).[ix] Luckily, each of these cities has worked to save and restore these century-old treasures for future generations to appreciate.

Myths and misconceptions about Forsyth’s fountain still circulate. Paris’s Place de la Concorde fountain has repeatedly been attributed as the inspiration for the Forsyth Park fountain, and throughout the years this misconception has had to be undone. It became ingrained in the history of the fountain due to a 1915 marker that was placed beside the fountain, attributing its design to the fountain in Paris. While the fountain does have many similarities to that work, Michel Joseph Napoleon Lienard’s design for the Great Exhibition of 1851 at the Crystal Palace in London ultimately inspired Forsyth’s centerpiece.

The Forsyth Park Fountain stands out as an icon in the city of Savannah. Unlike the other monuments within Forsyth Park, such as the Confederate Memorial and the Spanish American War Memorial, it has no other purpose than its own existence and no other meaning than its own beauty. Throughout its life, it has seen the unrest of the Civil War, survived countless vandals and severe weather, and continues to live on today thanks to the amazing generosity and support of the local Savannah community. Forsyth Park has far exceeded the dreams of its visionary planners, and the iconic site will stand as a testament to Savannah’s deep and treasured history.


[i] “Savannah – Parks and Squares – Forsyth Park,” Forsyth Park vertical file.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Adrian Colquitt, “Forsyth Park, Savannah’s Lovely Centerpiece, Filled with Interest,” Savannah Morning News, May 6, 1928.

[iv] Carol A. Grissom, Zinc Sculpture in America, 1850-1950, (Newark: U of Delaware Press, 2009), 293.

[v] “Savannah – Parks and Squares – Forsyth Park,” 4.

[vi] Mary Morrison, The 1857 Cast-Iron Fountain in Savannah (New York: Friends of Cast Iron Architecture, 1979).

[vii] Ann Marshall, “Forsyth Park Transformation Shown in Hodgson Exhibit,” Savannah Evening Press, September 14, 1974.

[viii] Morrison, The 1857 Cast-Iron Fountain in Savannah.

[ix] “Broadway Fountain the People’s Choice,” Old Madison, last modified 1997, www.oldmadison.com/homes/fountain.html.

1.”Illustrated Catalogue of Ornamental Iron Work Manufactured by Janes, Beebe & Co.,” (New York: Cushing, Bardua & Co., 1875). Courtesy of the New York Public Library.

2. Design No. 5., “Illustrated Catalogue of Ornamental Iron Work Manufactured by Janes, Beebe & Co.,” (New York: Cushing, Bardua & Co., 1875). Courtesy of the New York Public Library.

3. Forsyth Park Fountain, 2013. Courtesy of Andrew Sherman.

4. Photograph of a fountain in Plaza de Armas Cuzco, Peru. From the Forsyth Park vertical file.

5. Photograph of a fountain in Poughkeepsie, New York. From the Forsyth Park vertical file.

6. Photograph of the Broadway Fountain, 1886. Courtesy of the Jefferson County Historical Society Research Library.


Further Reading

Adrain Colquitt, “Forsyth Park, Savannah’s Lovely Centerpiece, Filled with Interest.” Savannah Morning News, May 6, 1928.

Carol A. Grissom, Zinc Sculpture in America, 1850-1950. Newark: U of Delaware Press, 2009.

Pamela Hasterok, “The Fountain in Forsyth Park.” Savannah News-Press, February 10, 1985.

David E. Kelley, “Images of America.” Building Savannah. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2000.

Ann Marshall, “Forsyth Park Transformation Shown in Hodgson Exhibit.” Savannah Evening Press, September 14, 1974.

Mary Morrison, The 1857 Cast-Iron Fountain in Savannah. New York: Friends of Cast Iron Architecture, 1979.

“Savannah – Parks and Squares – Forsyth Park,” “Forsyth Park,” vertical file.

Old Madison. “Broadway Fountain the People’s Choice.” Last modified 1997. www.oldmadison.com/homes/fountain.html.

John E. Piper, “The Janes & Kirtland Iron Works.” The Bronx County Historical Society Journal XI, no. 2 (Fall 1974): 52-70.