Hawthorne’s Fountain Endures the Agonies Of Time And Neglect
Renovations have proved difficult to complete
By William Legault
A little over 40 years ago downtown Salem was transformed. The intent was to transform in both a visual and practical sense. A tired and obsolete downtown shopping district was converted from a vehicular throughway to a pedestrian themed, brick and cobblestone walking mall.
The visual goal was achieved with trees, flower beds, benches, and modern lighting. The new mall stretched from Washington Street to what was then Liberty Street and extended through Derby Square to Front Street and the old Market Place.
The practical part was never achieved. The indoor mall at what was East India Square failed to take hold and now lives on as the ugly step-child of Marley Properties out of Waltham. Run down and dingy it is the home of some good local businesses that deserve better.
At the western end of the pedestrian mall sits the Town Pump Memorial Fountain. Originally meant to honor Nathaniel Hawthorne’s A Rill From A Town Pump from Twice Told Tales. It also marks the site of the original fresh water spring in Salem.
For many years there existed a budget for the pedestrian mall that was used for maintenance and repairs as needed. Time marched on and that budget item became a fond and distant memory. As a result the forces of nature and man took their natural courses and the brick and mortar began to chip and crumble. The fountain was not immune to that erosion and corrosion.
Over the last few years plans have been made and implemented to repair some the brick and mortar the length of the mall. Sightlines have been changed by eliminating most of the flower beds and some of the trees. There has much conversation, and even consternation as to whether the mall looks better now than it did before. Many are suspicious of the actual long-term plans and what the goals may be.
The Fountain was re-designed with a smaller footprint and different footings. The results did not make many people happy. The water pressure has proved to strong for the smaller footprint. The volume of water from the waterfall creates a scenario where quite a bit of water escapes the basin through splashing. On windy days even more water escapes, and if the wind is strong enough we end up seeing a flow of water that runs down Washington Street.
Plumbing issues were not adequately addressed. The old plumbing is just not up to the task and it turned out the the old blue prints detailing what was where no longer can be located.
The footings are white, and very soft. They quickly turned grey, even black as a result of street exhaust and sediments and proved vulnerable to snow removal machinery. The damage from snow removal occurred despite an agreement from the City Planning Department that they would take steps to address the issue.
It just seems as if proper attention was not paid to the details. Questions that should have been asked were not asked. As a result what we have is an embarrassing mess which has gone over budget.
The blame game is a favorite, not just in government but in life in general. People are always looking to point fingers. In a project like this it comes down to who signed off on the plans. I stood as a city councillor with the appropriate parties last year and asked questions. Some of those questions were answered to my satisfaction and others, especially on the masonry were brushed aside as coming from a position of limited knowledge even though the day before I had consulted with one of Salem’s more accomplished and experienced masonry contractors. Promises were made. Some were kept such as the wooden protections that were added around the base to protect against snow removal operations. Others were not kept and then were remade.
Now as spring approaches the issue freshens in my mind.
From my perspective, responsibility for this project going awry, and continuing to go awry rests solely with the City Of Salem Planner, Lynn Duncan. A project proposed, planned and finished is not truly complete until you know it has been done right.
It was a mistake to decrease the footprint. It was a mistake to assume that the plumbing and electrical was adequate. It was a mistake to make the footing white and of a softer material. It was a mistake not to acid wash the bronze relief. To this point the whole project has been a mistake.
It was my mistake as a sitting city councillor at the time to trust that this project would be done right.