Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Jacob Wrey Mould's Cherry Hill Fountain - Central Park


Early in the development of Central Park, designer and architect Jacob Wrey Mould was hired as a part-time assistant to Calvert Vaux.  Mould, who had arrived in New York from London in 1852, was already a master of bold color and exotic design, having worked for years under the preeminent Owen Jones.  The arrangement was successful and in 1857 Mould was hired full-time as an assistant city architect.

Much of Mould's earlier work in the park were the decorative elements of Vaux's buildings and ornamental features--the sculptural details of The Terrace, for instance, and smaller items like lampposts and drinking fountains.  But by the 1860s he was designing features on his own, like the 1862 Music Pavilion.  In 1867 he began work on the Cherry Hill Fountain, a park feature that would be patently Mould.

Located east of Bethesda Terrace, Cherry Hill was named for the many ornamental cherry trees planted there.  Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted laid out a circular carriage turn-around branching off the Terrace Drive.  In its center was to be an ornamental "Drinking Fountain for Horses."

Mould's intricate plans for the finial show the basin and stem in less detail.  Blue watercolor streams of water spurt into the individual bird cups.  No lamps were included in the original designs.  from the  NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Mould designed an elaborate fountain in which water flowed from eight spouts into decorative saucers in which birds could drink or bathe.  These, in turn, overflowed over a polished granite, egg-shaped portion of the base that caused the water to fall in sheets into the basin.

Mould's meticulous attention to detail and color is exemplified by his design of one of the Cherry Hill Fountain porcelain bird cups, almost universally mislabeled as a wall sconce.  from the collection of the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Mould specified that the upper portion of the fountain be executed "in pure light bronze," and decorated the stem with colorful Minton tiles.

The "drinking fountain for horses" was complete in 1870.  According to Francis R. Kowsky's 2023 book Hell on Color, Sweet on Song, Jacob Wrey Mould and the Artful Beauty of Central Park, "Mould added the pleasurable sight and sound of moving water to the charm of this popular resting spot.  The fountain attracted people and their steeds to what was one of Mould's most cheery park furnishings."

The late 20th century was not kind to Central Park.  On June 14, 1976, New York Magazine wrote, "Cherry Hill is one of the park's main viewing stations.  Although it is now used as a parking lot, in bygone days horses were watered at the fountain while carriages paused to let their passengers admire the vista across the lake."  Jacob Wrey Mould's fountain, no longer functioning, sat dry and in desperate need of restoration.  The article noted, "the necessary plumbing and stonework repair would cost $25,000."

Clement and Elizabeth Moore provided $20,000 towards a full-scale restoration.  Finally, on August 7, 1998, the water flowed again.  The Central Park Conservancy's website says, "As a part of this work, the Conservancy realized Mould's original design with the bird cups and lamps."  When the lamps became part of Mould's design is perplexing, for they are obviously absent from the 1867 original plans.  Nevertheless, they are convincingly Mould in flavor.

After he turned the underground valves to activate the fountain, Peter Champe, the Central Park Conservancy's director of conservation and sculpture talked to Douglas Martin of The New York Times.  Martin reported, "Mr. Champe sees the fountain's creation in the 1800's as something of a lark.  He imagines the architect Calvert Vaux, one of the designers of Central Park, going to his associate Jacob Wrey Mould and saying: 'Jacob, why don't you go out and design a horse trough.  Make it look nice.'"

Martin added that, while the fountain had been restored, "one thing, though, has changed: horses are no longer permitted to drink from what was once their own fountain."

photographs by the author
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  1. Very well done article about a beautiful fountain. Thanks, Tom.

  2. We middle aged feel like old timers learning this information but remembering it more like this from the J&R days.. https://www.flickr.com/photos/wallyg/349712460

    1. That photo is of the City Hall Park fountain, not the Cherry Hill.

  3. Oops, correct, my mistake