“Glorious Water, Glorious Water”, these are the words that can be read from the pedestal of a seemingly forgotten memorial fountain in Atlanta, the Erskine Memorial Fountain.
Erskine Memorial Fountain is located near the entry point of Grant Park at Ormond Street in Atlanta. However, this is not the original home of the fountain. It was built and originally unveiled at the intersection of the streets Peachtree and West Peachtree in 1896. The fountain stayed there for 16 years until it was transferred to its present location.
Evidently from the fountain’s name, this landmark was built in honor of Judge John Erskine. Erskine, who was an Irish immigrant and a long time resident of Atlanta, served as a judge in the US for the district court of Georgia. His service at the district court was from 1865 to 1883. One of the judge’s wish was having a fountain for his adopted hometown. However, he died in 1895 before he was able to make his dream into a reality. Knowing what his father wanted, Mrs. Willard P. Ward, the daughter, carried out Erskine’s wish. Hence, the presence of Erskine Memorial Fountain; on the back of its bench, there reads “This Fountain Is Erected in Memory of Judge John Erskine by His Daughter.”
To build the fountain for her father, Mrs. Ward commissioned sculptor J. Massey Rhind. Rhind was a known American sculptor whose works include an array of architectural sculptures, public monuments and fountains. One of his better known works is the marble statue of Dr. Crawford W. Long which stands in the National Statuary Hall Collection in Washington D.C.
The memorial fountain for Erskine was officially unveiled to the public in May 1896. With the invitations issued by Mrs. Ward to a number of well-off and influential citizens of Atlanta, the affair fascinated a large crowd and was considered as a fairly pretty social event. There, the fountain was presented to the city by Colonel Robert J. Lowry on behalf of Mrs. Willard P. Ward. Colonel Lowry was a close friend of Judge Erskine and in his presentation speech, he described the judge as a public servant who was fearless, just, and filled with passion.
The current mayor at the time, Mayor Porter King proudly accepted the fountain on behalf of Atlanta. He stated that the fountain be guarded and sacredly cared for by individuals who carry the responsibility of municipal government. And for quite some time, Erskine Memorial Fountain was considered as one of Atlanta’s most notable landmarks.
However, as years passed by, the beautiful fountain made of bronze sitting over a marble platform has become a garbage-filled fountain that welcomes visitors near the entrance of the Grant Park. The beauty of the fountain’s elaborate design and structure has become less appealing with all the rust, overgrown grasses and weeds hiding the curving bench of the fountain with old-fashioned arms, sea horses, dolphins, undersea scenes, the 12 signs of the Zodiac and inscriptions.
That was one of the main factors why the fountain was removed from its original location. The fountain’s cleanliness was not kept and it slowly became an eyesore. Residents complained and asked for the removal of the fountain which led into a controversy. And as we know it, Erskine Memorial Fountain was transferred to Grant Park in 1912.
Presently, plans and movements for the restoration of Erskine and the entire Grant Park are being worked on by a group of concerned residents of Atlanta known as Grant Park Conservancy.