Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Moment in History: The Fireman's Fountain, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Monday through Friday I travel 20 or so miles south to downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee. This is one of the sites that is now very familiar to me:  

The Fireman's Fountain is located in a teeny, tiny little city park at the intersection of Lookout St., Sixth St., and Georgia Avenue. The fountain is a memorial to Chattanooga city firefighters Henry Iler and W.M. Peak who perished in the line of duty on June 9, 1887.  It was commissioned and installed in 1888. The tiny park changes with each season. Flowers bloom in the spring and continue through the summer, the flowers fade in the fall and if the temperature drops in the winter months, those of us who pass this fountain on our way to and from work can't help but gaze at the beauty of the frozen fountain.

I am all about some history, so I went looking for old photographs of the tiny little park and the Fireman's Fountain. This was the first photo that caught my eye:  

I am guessing this picture is from the early 1900s. Or 19teens.

Sadly, the ornate buildings to the left of the tiny park no longer exist.  They were torn down for an ugly parking lot.  I have walked through that parking lot many times, wondering what rooms I would be walking through if the buildings still existed. See the tall spire on the left? Still there!!!! I can see it from my office building. And that's all that's left of it; just a spire. There's no longer a building connected to it and the cross no longer sits atop of it. Someone always puts two green Christmas wreaths with red bows on the doors during Christmastime. 

I noticed the pretty curved fence around the tiny park as I was examing the photo. As you can see in the top picture, it is no longer there. What a shame! I also noticed the sign on the gate; a warning!


Hmmmm....what could be so dangerous in a tiny little park in downtown Chattanooga Tennessee in the 1900s or 19teens?

I forwarded to the next picture.

Those are alligators!!!!!!

 Alligators are not native to Southeast Tennessee! And,


This is a mystery to me, dear readers. I am fairly certain these are real alligators. If not, why the warning


Before the Nature Center, before Chattanooga's awesome Tennessee Aquarium, before the Chattanooga Zoo...

there were two alligators that spent their days lounging and sunning in a teeny, tiny park in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee.

If you know more about these alligators, please, please reply. Were they real? (I hope so. This is exactly the kind of quirkiness that appeals to me.) Did they have names? What happened to them during the cold winter months? How long did they live in the tiny park? Did anyone defiantly ignore the warning sign on the gate and enter the park? Who fed them? Did they swim in the 'cement pond'
 underneath the fountain?  

But mostly, I want to know....

Whose idea was this anyway?????????????????????????

Thanks for reading my blog!!!!


I have an answer to the Alligators in the Tiny City Park! My friend and co-worker Pete Burnette, who is also a history buff,  provided the answer and here it is:

"There was a sense of flair for exhibitionism, to have alligators in the fence.  However there 'was' a purpose.  Two fold in fact.  One, to keep birds away from the fountain.  Birds like to drink, but they also like to poop. The city is continually cutting trees downtown, placing wire and other deterrents on the roofs of buildings, along with privately owned buildings as well, to run away birds.  Appalachian birds may have never seen an alligator till they hovered over the fireman's fountain,  their instinct told them not to even THINK about getting close to them, much less landing in their turf!

Another purpose, was to keep dogs from pooping and bums from lounging around the fountain.  Remember, at that time, things were much more sacred than now.  That fireman's fountain was placed there by a community torn with grief from the loss of those firemen!  They wanted that fountain protected .... from everything, including nature!

Yes it was a humorous draw.  Especially when you consider ducks were cheaper.  The curious thing was that after the public fed the 'gators popcorn, the alligators would quack!"
Pete Burnett

I found the sentence about how the community was grieving to be so poignant. I think most of us who live and work here know the history behind it, but we just think of it as a pretty spot in a city of concrete, office buildings, tourist attractions and restaurants, but over a century ago ago, citizens were grieving over the deaths of two firemen. I'll never look at it in the same way again.

Thanks for the answer Pete!

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