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Union Square Park

Union Square Drinking Fountain map_it


This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

Also known as the Union Square Drinking Fountain, this ornate piece by German sculptor Karl Adolph Donndorf (1835–1916) was donated by philanthropist Daniel Willis James (1832–1907) to promote the virtue of charity to 19th century New Yorkers. One of a few public drinking fountains of this type left, the figural group contains a mother holding a baby with an infant at her left side. The fountain’s figures were modeled on the artist’s family and the granite is from Sweden. The lion’s heads on the fountain’s four sides dispense water; the fountain originally featured tin cups chained to the piece to allow passersby to quench their thirst.

The piece, located in an alcove on the west side of the park, was dedicated October 25, 1881. A civic patron, James intended his gift to function not only as a decorative work of art but also to propagate a lesson about kindness and charity. After visiting the artist in his native Germany and procuring a model of the fountain, James commissioned Donndorf to execute the piece. The fountain was most recently renovated as part of the reconstruction of Union Square, scheduled for completion in 2002.

Photo of James Fountain in Union Square Park

Union Square Drinking Fountain Details

  • Sculptor: Karl Adolph Dondorff
  • Architect: J. Leonard Corning
  • Description: Group of three figures---standing mother holds baby on right arm with infant at her left side---(over life-size) on an ornamented, octagonal pedestal with a lion head fountain and a basin on each of four sides; formerly a working drinking fountain
  • Materials: Group---bronze; Pedestal---Swedish red granite (polished)
  • Dimensions: Total H: 19' W: 7'6" D: 12'
  • Cast: 1881
  • Dedicated: October 25, 1881
  • Foundry: G. Howaldt, Braunschweig
  • Donor: Daniel Willis James and Theodore Roosevelt, Sr.

Please note, the NAME field includes a primary designation as well as alternate namings often in common or popular usage. The DEDICATED field refers to the most recent dedication, most often, but not necessarily the original dedication date. If the monument did not have a formal dedication, the year listed reflects the date of installation.

For more information, please contact Art & Antiquities at (212) 360-8143

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