Chance discovery gets Lincoln Park fountain restoration flowing in Portland

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PORTLAND — Still encased in its wooden winter shelter, the Lincoln Park fountain is expected to make a real splash next year.

This week, an almost match of the spire that once topped the park’s fountain is expected to arrive from North Carolina. Friends of Lincoln Park President Frank Reilly and conservation specialist Jonathan Taggart said the spire will be in place in Portland by this time next year.

“You have to go from the bottom on up; it is about four or five stages of work,” Reilly said April 14.

The Friends are looking for $170,000 in grants and private donations to pay for a new fountain basin, new plumbing and the spire.

“I think it is about as close as we could humanly get without detailed knowledge of the original pieces,” Taggart said. “We have blurry photographs that show minimal detail at best.”

Lincoln Park, bordered by Congress, Franklin, Federal and Pearl streets, emerged from the ashes of the fire that burned through the city peninsula in 1866, according to the Friends. It was the first park created and maintained by the city. The fountain, cast in Paris at the Val d’Osne Foundry, was installed in 1871.

Reilly, who, with his wife, Sharon Reilly, moved to Portland from San Francisco more than a decade ago, has made park restoration a labor of love.

“You want this park back to life again,” he said. “It is the oldest in Portland and has a wonderful story to it.”

Although the fate of the original spire is a mystery, Reilly said, the fountain works: water flows from two levels past a base adorned with sculptures of children.

“It is meager-looking when the sprays are on; it sort of dribbles,” Sharon Reilly said.

About a decade ago, Taggart oversaw the removal of the fountain and repainted it. A conservation project to replace the spire presented a challenge, he said.

“The problem was, I could not even give (Reilly) a cost estimate for creating the items,” Taggart said. “A lot of pieces would have to be remade and it would be pretty darn expensive.”

When scouring the internet for images detailed enough to use for making patterns for parts, Taggart found the near-replica of the spire in a fountain at Whitehall on the Villa Antiques, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

“The original idea was, he was going to come down, photograph it and get measurements, so he could reproduce the parts that were missing,” Whitehall owner David Lindquist said Monday.

Then Taggart had another idea.

“Why don’t we just buy this thing and cut to the chase; the pieces appeared to be almost exactly what we were missing,” he said. The purchase price is confidential, but Taggart estimated it cut the project cost in half.

Lindquist said he obtained the fountain and spire no more than five years ago, and was ready to arrange a consignment sale for the spire. The exact history of the pieces is still fuzzy, but it was sold by Barbara Israel Garden Antiques, based in Katonah, New York, to a customer in Georgia before coming to Whitehall.

“It was a marriage in the sense the fountain and the basin it sat in were of the same time period, but they did not start out together,” Lindquist said. He and an assistant were able to remove the spire in one piece.

Taggart said work could take a year, including strengthening the base with stainless-steel plumbing. He expects the cast-iron parts to be more fragile, in contrast to steel parts.

Before the spire is installed, the basin will be renovated this fall while the city repairs park sidewalks. The sidewalk repairs are included in the fiscal year 2017 capital improvements budget that faces a City Council vote April 25.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Jonathan Taggart, in his Georgetown workshop, found replacement parts in North Carolina that will be used to restore the fountain in Portland’s Lincoln Park.

The spire topping this fountain in North Carolina will arrive in Portland this week and be installed on the fountain at Lincoln Park.

It is under cover now, but Frank and Sharon Reilly of the Friends of Lincoln Park said April 14 that the Portland fountain could be restored by next spring.

The fate of the spire atop the fountain in Portland’s Lincoln Park is unknown, but a replica could be in place by next spring. The restoration could cost as much as $170,000.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.