Tompkins Square Park

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Temperance Fountain


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

Dating to 1888, this neo-classical fountain was the gift of the wealthy San Francisco dentist, businessman, and temperance crusader Henry D. Cogswell (1820–1900).

Cogswell was born in Tolland, Connecticut in 1820, the son of an architect and builder. His mother died when he was young, and the family relocated to Orwell, New York. At age nine Cogswell returned alone to Connecticut, and endured “eight years of labor in southern Connecticut and Rhode Island cotton mills, itinerant wanderings, and incarceration in a poorhouse." Managing to transcend these ordeals, and largely self-taught, Cogswell served as principal of Orwell High School, studied medicine, and became a dentist.

News of the California Gold Rush of 1849 lured Cogswell to San Francisco. There his prosperous dental practice and real estate investments permitted him to retire in 1856 with a fortune estimated at $2,000,000. He engaged himself in public philanthropy, founding the Cogswell Polytechnic Institute, and helping to advance the anti-alcohol or “temperance” movement. Often, his charitable acts were tinged with self-promotion, and in an effort to embellish his humble origins, he adopted the coat of arms of Humphrey Cogswell, a 15th-century English lord, from whom Henry falsely claimed his lineage.

Cogswell’s most lasting legacy was the 50 monuments he sponsored nationwide between 1878 and the 1890s. Most were versions of the temperance fountain. Several of the fountains, such as those in Washington, D. C., Boston Common, and in Tompkins Square Park, were covered by a stone canopy or baldachin supported by four Doric columns. As can be seen here, the four stone entablatures were emblazoned with the words Faith, Hope, Charity, and Temperance.

The erection of the Temperance Fountain in Tompkins Square Park resulted from Cogswell’s affiliation with the Moderation Society, which was formed in 1877 to address health conditions on the Lower East Side, and to distribute free ice-water fountains to encourage citizens to drink water instead of alcoholic beverages. Cogswell served as the group’s honorary president in 1890, and the collaboration produced another temperance fountain at the New York City main post office at 34th Street and Eighth Avenue. The figure of Hebe, the mythical water carrier, atop the pyramidal stone pediment was originally fabricated in zinc by the J. L. Mott Iron Works in Mott Haven in the Bronx. The classically-styled figure is based on a marble statue made circa 1816 by the renowned Danish sculptor Albert Bertel Thorvaldsen (c.1770–1844). Thorvaldsen’s 1839 marble self-portrait stands in Central Park at East 97th Street. Though the four ornamental luminaires with red, white and blue tinted glass, which once flanked the fountain, long ago vanished, this monument has withstood the vagaries of time better than most. In 1992, the fountain underwent extensive restoration, and the Hebe statue was replaced with a more durable bronze replica.

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Temperance Fountain Details

  • Location: Near Avenue A, south of 9th Street transverse
  • Sculptor: Bertel Thorvaldsen
  • Description: Square kiosk with four supporting columns over a drinking fountain, finial female figure on pedestal
  • Materials: Kiosk (and fountain?)--gray North Jay granite; original figure--zinc; replacement figure--bronze
  • Dimensions: kiosk h 13' x l 6'6" x w 6'6"; figure h 5'1½"
  • Cast: ca. 1888
  • Dedicated: 1888
  • Foundry: Replacement figure--Manhattan Molds & Cast Inc., 307 West Broadway, New York, NY 10003 (212) 564-3998
  • Donor: Henry Cogswell; Moderation Society

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

For more information, please contact Art & Antiquities at (212) 360-8163

Directions to Tompkins Square Park

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