PARK RIVER, N.D. — Park River residents want to save a historic water fountain that was built a century ago in an effort to make their town dry.
The Women’s Christian Temperance Union fountain, dedicated in 1906, has fallen into disrepair, and Agatha Frisby, a historical architect, is leading a group of Park River residents who want to refurbish the fountain.
The Park River fountain has international historical significance because it is one of fewer than 100 WCTU monuments left in the world, Frisby said. The WCTU, an organization that supported social causes including temperance, built the fountain in hopes that it would encourage people to drink more water and less alcohol.
Park River – like so many other small towns in their early days – had several saloons among its business district. Founded in 1884, Park River had 450 residents and 11 saloons just a year later, Frisby said. By 1886, a third of the town’s revenue came from liquor sales.
In 1888, a year before North Dakota statehood, Park River went “dry,” but that quickly was reversed, Frisby said.
The number of Park River saloons declined in the 1890s because Prohibition was written into the North Dakota constitution, but “Blind Pigs” – places that sold alcohol illegally in a private location – replaced the legal procurement of alcohol. Customers would visit the location on the pretense of seeing some animal oddity, like a blind pig, then be ushered to the back, where the alcohol was stored.
The alcohol likely came from across the Red River in Minnesota, which didn’t have Prohibition at the time, Frisby said. There also may have been some homemade products, distilled in northeast North Dakota rural locations.
The Park River WCTU chapter, formed in 1890, wanted the fountain built to “reform the drinking manners and morals” of the town, Frisby said. The national WCTU formed in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1874, and urged members at its convention that year to erect fountains. The fountains often provided a place for not only humans but also horses and dogs to drink.
Vandals destroyed some of the fountains around the world shortly after they were built, and estimates of the number that remain vary from two dozen to about 100, Frisby said.
The Park River WCTU cement fountain was built in September 1906 by Ed Herwik at a cost of about $300. It stands 11 feet, 4 inches high and was decorated with Scottish granite. Dedicated at the 17th annual North Dakota WCTU convention in September 1906, the statue was surrounded by a 25-foot square rail.
In 1984, the Park River Lions club remodeled the statue, but it since has fallen into disrepair. Meanwhile, the remodeling work resulted in the loss of historical integrity and has resulted in exclusion from the National Register of Historic Places and the Historic American Landscapes Survey, Frisby said.
The options for the fountain are to leave it as it is, restore it similar to the way it was in the 1984 project or to restore it to its original state, Frisby told a group of Park River residents who attended a Save the Fountain meeting in Park River this month.
Frisby told the group at the meeting that their presence indicated that they wanted to pursue the latter.
“This shows the community does want to support the project,” she said.
The next steps will include securing bids from contractors, fundraising and applying for grants, and appointing board officers and committees, Frisby said
Ruth Jelinek, a Walsh County resident who was at the Save the Fountain meeting, is interested in restoring the monument because she has familial ties to the WCTU. Jelinek’s grandmother, Mary Moen, was a member of the Gilby chapter, and Jelinek recalls becoming a WCTU White Ribbon Recruit as a child. Meanwhile, she possesses records of WCTU meetings dating back to 1914.
“Even though I don’t have a direct connection to the Park River WCTU group, I want to help restore this WCTU fountain in honor and memory of all of the women that worked to make a positive difference in the life of others,” Jelinek said.
Her records indicate that besides temperance issues, WCTU members were concerned about poverty and women’s suffrage, she said.
“They kind of were the social justice warriors back in the day, trying to make the community better, to make things better, ” Jelinek said.
For information about Save the Fountain, call (701) 331-9833 or email firstname.lastname@example.org