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Fountain Square's famous Tyler Davidson Fountain marks 150th anniversary

Michael E. Keating
The Genius of Water was dedicated "To the People of Cincinnati" 150 years ago.

Fountain Square's eponymous fountain is celebrating 150 years. The Tyler Davidson Fountain was dedicated on Oct. 6, 1871, bearing the inscription "To the People of Cincinnati."

3CDC is marking the occasion with a celebration on Fountain Square Wednesday from 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

To the People of Cincinnati

Businessman Henry Probasco gifted the fountain to the city in honor of his business partner and brother-in-law, Tyler Davidson. It was originally placed in the middle of Fifth Street when the road was then a wide esplanade.

University of Cincinnati history professor David Stradling notes the fountain faced east when it was installed.

"Basically it (was) gesturing a welcome to people who (were) coming to the city from the east," Stradling explains. "Then when they redo Fountain Square and create the Fountain Square that we know now in the early 1970s, they moved the fountain and turned the fountain around so that it faced west. They did it because they changed Fifth Street from a two-way street to a one-way street and all of the traffic was pointing directly at the fountain."

It was re-positioned again in the 2000s and now faces south.

The Genius of Water

The woman atop the fountain is known as the "Genius of Water," or sometimes as "The Lady." The fountain was created in Germany by sculptor August von Kreling, and cast at the Royal Bavarian Bronze Foundry in Munich.

Historian Greg Hand notes the foundry "purchased many old bronze Danish cannons" following a dispute between Prussia and Denmark and "24 tons of this Danish scrap were melted down to create the Tyler Davidson Fountain."

Each of the characters surrounding the fountain represent the practical uses and pleasures of water.

Yes, you really can drink the water

When Probasco commissioned the fountain, it was to serve as a place for people to get something to drink. Until then, the only place to do so was in a bar. Hand notes "the Tyler Davidson Fountain is among many Victorian monuments known as Temperance fountains. It was intended to keep Cincinnatians out of the Downtown saloons."

The water in each of the four corner spigots remains potable to this day, meaning they are safe to drink from. The basins below were intended for animals such as horses and dogs. Bronze cups were once attached to each spigot. Not only could you get a drink, Hand says, but the fountain was built with a primitive refrigeration system to ensure the water was nice and cold.

You'll find even more interesting history and facts about the Tyler Davidson Fountain and the former Fountain Square comfort stations on Hand's blog here and here.

A sesquicentennial celebration

Events on Oct. 6 begin with remarks at 4:30 p.m. from Cincinnati City Manager Paula Boggs Muething and city officials, followed by live music from the band Soul Pocket from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

There's also a floral display highlighting the four uses of water incorporated in the fountain. You can read more about the display's symbolism here.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.