Brooklyn Public Library

Mobile AppDownload our Mobile App

eNewsletterSubscribe to BPL eNews


The Darlington Electric Fountain, 1897-1915

Nov 19, 2009 5:51 PM | 4 comments

Darlington Electric Fountain pipes, Grand Army Plaza 1914

When this blog began I thought an article on the successive fountains of Grand Army Plaza would be a good idea--but found I had nothing to add to the section in the Wikipedia article on same.  Well, finally I do have a little something new to add to the story. This recently acquired photograph looking southeast across the Plaza shows the circular pipes in the empty fountain basin, with the reservoir tower in the background. Just below the tower you can see hoardings around the site of the Central Library, on which my trusty loupe shows a sign reading "To the Museum." This photograph was taken on June 26 1914 at 3:10 p.m.  by photographers of the Public Service Commission only months before the site was excavated for the IRT subway construction, destroying the fountain completely.

There are not too many pictures of the Darlington fountain out there. The fuzzy black and white images in the Architectural Annual of 1900 give no idea of the beauty that attracted crowds to spend the evening watching the display of color and light.  On opening night it is reported that 100,000 spectators gathered  on the Plaza and the berms surrounding it. In fact, if anyone has a color postcard of the fountain we would love to see it. The Bailey Fountain currently occupying the site creates its effects differently, through dramatic sculptural forms complemented by powerful arcking jets.  City Park in Denver Colorado has a Darlington fountain that was renovated in 2008, so I am borrowing it to give an idea of how Grand Army Plaza might have looked at night during the short but illustrious lifetime of our own Darlington Electric Fountain.

City Park Electric Fountain, Denver CO

Photograph by kind permission of Atlantic Fountains


11/25/2009 5:09:17 AM #

Many heartfelt thank you's from this quadrant for posting this! Fredrick W. Darlington is an obscure name today, but in his day, he was a curious amalgamation of practical electric street railway engineer and artist, and was wont to build these fountains in amusement parks at the terminal stations of street railways. Very few examples of his work survive and his name is (almost) lost to time.
I would like to add that the Sunday, August 8, 1897 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle has a magnificent write-up of the fountain, beginning on page 13, column two ("Our Newest Electric Toy". Available online at From there, do a date search). The illustration of the control room interior, "Water System of the Fountain" shows what was once on the other side of those three tiny, closely-spaced windows visible on the basin wall of your photograph.
And what a magnificent photograph it is; truly a bit of vanished Brooklyn.    

Garry Osgood

11/30/2009 11:47:27 AM #

Great picture of the fountain piping as there are very few of these types of photos available of Darlington's work.  I was involved in the original effort to rennovate the Denver fountain in 1999 but it took many more years for the City to be able to fund the work.

We are now engaged on a project in New Orleans to try and rennovate another Darlington fountain in West End Park. In researching Darlington's work, I have come accross his obit in the NY Times but more interestingly, this article in The Strand Magazine published in August 1898 showing the Brooklyn fountain operating both during the day and at night.

Unfortunately the images are not able to be copied, but hope you enjoy it nonetheless.  The article begins on page 223 if the link does not drop you there. Here is the link:

Dominic Shaw

12/1/2009 10:43:11 AM #

Great find Dominic, thank you so much!


1/5/2010 11:14:52 AM #

I've learned a new word: hoardings!