A temperance fountain was a fountain that was set up, usually by a private benefactor, to encourage people not to drink beer by the provision of safe and free water. Beer was the main alternative to water, and generally safer. The temperance societies had no real alternative as tea and coffee were too expensive, so drinking fountains were very attractive.
Dr. Henry Daniel Cogswell (March 3, 1820 – July 8, 1900) was a dentist and a crusader in the temperance movement. He and his wife Caroline also founded Cogswell College in San Francisco, California. Another campus in Everett, Washington was later dedicated in his honor.
Born in Tolland, Connecticut, as a youth, he worked in the New England cotton mills and studied by night. He became a dentist in Providence, Rhode Island at age 26. When the California Gold Rush started, the Cogswells decided to go west. However, they did not do any mining themselves. Instead, he offered dentistry services to miners and invested in real estate and mining stocks, becoming one of San Francisco's first millionaires. A pioneer in his field, Cogswell designed the vacuum method of securing dental plates and was the first in California to perform a dental operation using chloroform.
Henry D. Cogswell believed that if people had access to cool drinking water they wouldn't consume alcoholic beverages. It was his dream to construct one temperance fountain for every 100 saloons across the United States and many were built. These drinking fountains were elaborate structures built of granite that Cogswell designed himself.
Cogswell's fountains can be found in Washington, D.C., Tompkins Square Park New York City, Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and Rockville, Connecticut. Other examples were erected and then torn down at: Buffalo, Rochester, Boston Common, (removed 1900) Fall River, Massachusetts, Pacific Grove, California, San Jose, California, and San Francisco. The concept of providing drinking fountains as alternatives to saloons was later implemented by the Women's Christian Temperance Union.
These grandiose statues were not well received by the communities where they were placed. Washington, DC's Temperance Fountain has been called "the city's ugliest statue" and spurred city councils across the country to set up fine arts commissions to screen such gifts.
Although the D.C. statue survived mostly unscathed, the San Francisco one was torn down by "a lynch party of self-professed art lovers" including Gelett Burgess (who was subsequently fired from his job at University of California at Berkeley) and one in Rockville, Connecticut, was thrown into Shenipsic Lake.
In Dubuque, Iowa, a statue of Cogswell that sat in Washington Park was pulled down by a group of vandals in 1900 and buried under the ground of a planned sidewalk. The next day the sidewalk was poured and the object was entombed. However, when new sidewalks were recently laid, the statue was not found.
The Temperance Fountain in Washington, D.C has four stone columns supporting a canopy on whose sides the words "Faith," "Hope," "Charity," and "Temperance" are chiseled. Atop this canopy is a life-sized heron, and the centerpiece is a pair of entwined heraldic scaly dolphins. Originally, visitors were supposed to freely drink ice water flowing from the dolphins' snouts with a brass cup attached to the fountain and the overflow was collected by a trough for horses, but the city tired of having to replenish the ice in a reservoir underneath the base and disconnected the supply pipes.
The Temperance Fountain was originally placed at a prominent location: Seventh and Pennsylvania Avenue, across from Center Market and near to "Hooker's Division" (now the Federal Triangle).
The message was to drink water, not whiskey, as there were so many saloons along the Avenue to tempt passersby. This was near the halfway point between the Capitol and White House. For many years after National Prohibition, it ironically sat in front of the Apex Liquor Store.
In 1987, it was relocated about 100 feet north during the renewal by the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation, since the statue was regarded as undesirable from the start.
The PADC created Indiana Plaza, and the Temperance Fountain swapped locations with the monument to the Grand Army of the Republic, which was considered historically more significant.
Today the fountain sits at the corner of Seventh Street and Indiana Avenue, NW, across from the National Archives and Navy Memorial, where thousands of tourists and workers walk past daily without noticing it. The Temperance Fountain has been called "the city's ugliest statue".
In April 1945, Sen. Sheridan Downey of California introduced a Senate resolution to remove the fountain, but, preoccupied with World War II, Congress ignored the resolution and it died in committee.
The fountain is also the source of the name for the Cogswell Society, a small group of Washington professionals who have taken it upon themselves to take care of the fountain. In 1984, it was placed on the Downtown Historic District National Register #84003901.