Maids of the Mist Fountain

June 22, 2017

 

Maids of the Mist Fountain is a beautiful attraction in St. Joseph. The fountain where two female sculptures, Constance and Hope, rest upon has been set on the place since 1892.

The fountain was built by J.W. Fiske Iron Works in 1872. After it was completed, the piece was shipped to Chicago. There, it was added to the adorning elements of the Inter-State Industrial Exposition. The fountain stayed on the location from 1873 to 1891.

So how did the fountain get to St. Joseph? H.E. Bucklen, owner of the Whitcomb Hotel at the time, was responsible for that. For $500, he bought the fountain and moved it to the city. It was a great bargain if the original cost of Maids of the Mist which amounts to $5,000 would be considered. After its installation at St. Joseph, it quickly became a popular landmark and was referred to as the “Stone Maidens”. Situated at Lake Bluff Park, maidens of the fountain go through pleasant summer days and fierce storms.

The idea of giving names to the maiden figures was from Calvin Preston. He was a local historian who, in the late 1930’s, recollected that turtles and fishes were once swimming in the pond enclosing the fountain. He named the maiden facing the western side Constance. This is the figure which faced all the smoke-belching stacks of passenger liners on Lake Michigan as well as the sails of St. Joseph’s old yachts. Taking in the sentiment which must have seized the emotional side of the other maiden, as the growth and change of St. Joseph pass by before her eyes, Preston named her Hope.

Because of the fountain’s exposure to varying weather for years, the fountain of the two maidens dismantled by 1972. The figures’ faces, arms and legs were greatly damaged that there was almost no hope of refurbishing them. Fortunately, there was one man who did not lose hope, Corwin Rife. Rife was a curator in charge of managing exhibits at Kalamazoo museum. He rose to the challenge of reconstructing the fountain by experimenting and not giving up with several trials. With the use of old pictures of the original fountain, Rife was able to create the missing and damaged pieces of the Maids of the Mist. He successfully restored the classic maiden sculptures to the way they looked years before. After the maidens’ restoration, the city of St. Joseph and Fort Miami Heritage Society played their part in restoring the entire fountain. Finally, the Maids of the Mist Fountain reappeared with its original beauty in spring, 1974.

However, in 1998, one of Hope’s feet was broken off and stolen. With the help of Susan Wilczak, curator of Krasl Art Center at the time, a new foot was made and was reinstated.

Now, after more than a century, the Maids of the Mist continue to watch the people of St. Joseph. Constance and Hope still take observance of the present fishermen walking the city’s piers, music goers of summer concerts held near the vicinity, art fair attendees, strollers and joggers, long time residents and visitors of the city.





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