By Jessica Barnett
President, Fountain Square Neighborhood Association
It is likely undisputed the most well-known structures in Fountain Square are the fountains from which the neighborhood derives its name. But did you ever wonder about the history of these famous fountains? Wonder no more!
In the late 1800s, the area of Fountain Square was known as “The End” as it was the end of the mule-drawn streetcar line that ran along Virginia Avenue, with a turnaround near the intersection of Virginia with Shelby and Prospect streets. In 1889, a fountain, called the “Subscription Fountain,” “Lady of the Fountain,” or “Lady Spray,” was constructed at the intersection and was the first public fountain in Indianapolis. The so-called “Lady Spray” was likely a depiction of Hebe, the Greek goddess of youth. Travelers and residents used it for drinking water as well as a site to water their horses. The fountain may have also prompted the paving of Virginia Avenue, as many called for the action to enhance the beauty of the fountain and take the place of the “mud hole around the fountain, which ma[de] the place both unsightly and unhealthful.”
The original fountain stood until 1919, when a nearby shopkeeper used it as an anchor for a large banner running from the fountain to the shop. A large gust of wind came through the area, toppling the fountain, as it was less of an anchor than the shop. It is unclear what became of the original fountain, as it was removed shortly thereafter and lost to time. In 1922, Indianapolis Mayor Lew Shank decided that a bequest to build a fountain, as outlined in Congressman Ralph Hill’s will, would be used to construct a new fountain where the former one stood. Designed by Myra Reynolds Richards, the Ralph Hill Memorial Fountain, with the “Pioneer Family” statue in its center, was dedicated on Sept. 9, 1924.
In 1954, the city of Indianapolis moved the fountain to nearby Garfield Park, citing traffic issues in the area. In 1957, the city announced a plan to use portions of Fountain Square to accommodate a federal highway system, which resulted in the displacement of many families and businesses. In response, residents of Fountain Square and surrounding neighborhoods formed alliance organizations such as the Greater Southside Inc. and the United Southside Community Organization (USCO). In 1969, under pressure from the USCO, the city relocated the fountain to its original location in a beautification effort for the area, which lost 24% of its population during the construction of I-70 and I-65.
The fountain was renovated in 1979. In the 2009, the Pioneer Family statue was relocated to the newly-created Pioneer Plaza and a new cast iron fountain in the style of the original “Lady Spray” took their place in the intersection. The city of Indianapolis renovated the fountain and the Pioneer Family in 2019. It is currently maintained by Southeast Neighborhood Development (SEND), with contributions from other community organizations, which ensures the fountain will be a centerpiece of our community for many years to come!