Catholic Total Abstinence Fountain, Philadelphia

Theresa Stuhlman of the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department kindly furnished the following account of the restoration….

The Catholic Total Abstinence Fountain (“CTAF”) was dedicated on 4 July 1876 during America’s first World’s Fair, the 1876 Centennial Exposition held in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park.  This monumental fountain ensemble was commissioned by the Catholic total Abstinence Union of America, (“CTAUA”), an Irish-American temperance organization.  Herman Kirn of Baden, Germany carved the sculptures of Laas marble in Austria.  The center sculptural component features a 16 ton statue of Moses atop a stone mound.  The statue is situated within a circular basin, the walls of which are punctuated by eight piers,.  Projecting from the basin are four circular platforms which serve as the foundation for four smaller statues, the bases of which functioned as drinking fountains.  If viewed from above, the configuration of the statues, platforms, and basin take the form of a Maltese cross.
     The didactic fountain features heroes from religious and patriotic history such as the central Moses figure, which stands 15 feet tall on a mass of rock and was described as the largest single-piece marble sculpture in America upon installation.  Surrounding Moses are pedestals which are surmounted by four nine-foot tall marble statues of famous Irish and Irish-American Catholics.  These include:  Archbishop John Carroll, the patriot priest of the Revolution; commodore John Barry, father of the American navy; and Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence.  In addition, Father Theobold Mathew, the Irish-Catholic apostle of temperance is featured in monumental form.  Father Mathew began the Irish-Catholic abstinence movement in the United States during an extensive tour of America in the late 1840s.  His tour coincided with the massive immigration of Irish into America due to the devastating potato famine of 1846-47, when Ireland lost two million inhabitants.  The nineteenth century was a time of intense anti-Catholic and anti-Irish sentiment, and the fountain was a reminder of the contributions of Irish-Catholics to the American Revolution.  The goal was to both remind Americans, who stereotyped recent immigrants, of the deeds of the founders, and to admonish immigrants to believe in the ideals of patriotism, temperance, and Catholicism.  Each ;pedestal contains four drinking fountain basins and a lion’s head water spout on each face, for a total of 16 drinking fountains overall.  On the outside walls of the fountain are carved medallions representing Catholic figures from the American Revolution such as George Meade (grandfather of the Civil War general),the  Marquis de Lafayette, Thaddeus Kosciuzko, and Chief Orono of the Penobscot Indians, a convert of Jesuit missionaries and contributor to the American cause during the Revolution.
     The fountain was a gift to the City of Philadelphia from the Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America, an Irish Catholic organization formed in 1872.  The CTAUA was interested in influencing not only the behavior of fellow immigrant Catholics, but also of visitors to the Centennial and future generations of Americans through religious instruction and cultural uplift.  James F. Wood, Bishop of Philadelphia and a total abstainer, suggested the image of Moses striking the rock and a fountain of water gushing from it which comes from the Book of Exodus:  God appeared before Moses and instructed him to strike the rock of Horeb from which water would flow – the rock produced water and provided salvation for the Israelites.  The CTAU believed that, like the rock of Horeb the temperance movement was a source of salvation. The Centennial Committee even aided Kirn during the modeling process by connecting him with John Shea, a leading historian of the Catholic Church, who provided him with sources for images and descriptions of the men to be sculptured.  According to documentation housed at the Philadelphia Archdiocese Historical Research Center, the fountain was the location of pro-temperance parades, concerts, and meetings given by the CTAUA from the time of the Centennial until the 1940s.  The CTAUA officially disbanded in the mid-1960s.
     The CTAF Conservation Project is the culmination of years of preservation planning and fundraising efforts by Philadelphia Parks & Recreation ((“PPR”) to save this one-of-a-kind public artwork.  The detailed Conditions Assessment and Cost Estimate conducted in 2009 revealed that the sculpture was in dire condition.  There were three high-priority structural areas – Moses, Father Mathew, and the granite steps around the fountain and statues were significant public hazards.  The rough stone base that supports the Moses statue was in the early stages of collapsing.  The long-term effects of water infiltration had eroded the mortar joints, causing numerous stones to shift outward in excess of two inches (plants had rooted in the open joints), putting the 16-ton figure at significant risk of total collapse.  The most imminently threatened statue, however, was Father Mathew.  In 1910, the figure had been struck by lightning and severely damaged.  The subsequent repair work, performed in 1910 and again in 1930, was completed with iron and metal anchors, where were corroded and failing.  The assessment revealed that the head of the statue and half of the entire figure required immediate stabilization to avoid significant loss.
     Additionally, the basin and marble coping and the granite stairs were among the features which were severely displaced.  The basin had several layers of built-up material which have reached an advanced state of deterioration.  Although the constituent parts of the marble basin walls were in satisfactory condition, they had rotated out pf plane as a result of foundation settlement and from being hit by moving vehicles.  The foundation of the basin had also begun to sink, and the basin sloped to the north and west.  None of the existing drainage systems functione – water escaped through open mortar joints.  Consequently, the joints between the walls the piers were open and in many cases were 3 inches wide.  Stagnant water stood in the drinking fountains without proper drainage.  Additionally, the granite steps had fractures and large voids ranging from 8 to 16 inches in displaced areas, constituting a major tripping hazard to fountain visitors.
     Armed with this information, PPR began the arduous task of identifying the money required to begin the design and rehabilitation of the sculpture – never an easy task when the annual capital budget for the entire Department is only $7 million.  Staring as far back as 2006, PPR actively sought funds for the design and conservation of the CTAF fountain from a variety of sources including the Fairmount Park Conservancy, the Connelly Foundation, the Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, individuals such as Veronica Mathew (the great-great-grand-niece of Theobold Mathew), and from federal sources including Save America’s Treasurers.  The project was also included in a Congressional earmark appeal for the Centennial District in West Park.  Despite all these attempts, no funds were forthcoming, and as the Catholic Church was then rocked by its own financial woes, it didn’t appear likely that any Catholic institution would be willing to assist in the near future.
    Consequently, it took PPR a significant amount of time through numerous capital budgets to accumulate the necessary funds.  In 2012, we even went so far as to ask another City department to contribute to the cause.  The Public Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy (formerly, the Public Art Office) did generously agree to contribute $200,000 from their limited capital budget to the project because they felt we were in imminent danger of losing two of the sculptures.
     In 2013, PPR bid the project, which included a redesigned landscape, but was unable to award the project because the bids were higher than the available funding of $640,000.  PPR had to reduce the scope, which unfortunately included eliminating much of the landscape plan, and scrape together some additional  monies to rebid the project in December 2015.  PPR persevered and was finally able to award the project in 2016.  It took slightly more than a year to complete.

Historic Significance

The CTAF is nationally significant as it meets several National Register criteria and is a contributing element to the Fairmount Park National Register District.  The fountain is associated with at least two national events that contribute to the broad pattern of our history – the Centennial Exposition of 1876 and the US temperance movement.  Described in contemporary accounts at the largest single-piece marble statue in America in 1876, this fountain is today one of the few remaining large-scale cultural landscape elements remaining from that defining Centennial Exposition.  Noted author James D. McCabe described the fountain as “one of the finest works of art in America” in his (1876) Illustrated History of the Centennial.  Located prominently at the terminus of the two main thoroughfares (Fountain Avenue and Avenue of the Republic) on the Centennial grounds, the fountain was a landmark and also fulfilled a highly functional role of providing fairgoers with free, public water through 16 drinking fountains.  The original road alignment leading to the fountain remains intact, and today the fountain continues to remain prominently located at the entrance to one of Philadelphia’s celebrated outdoor performing venues, the Mann Music Center.
      Constructed at the height of the temperance movement, the Catholic Total Abstinence Fountain is one of the most significant monuments to the social movement of temperance reform in the United States – and may also be the only fountain dedicated to total abstinence in the country.  While there are a few temperance fountains in other American cities, and even another in Fairmount Park, this fountain is unusual in that it promotes abstaining from all alcohol, rather than merely tempering one’s consumption of alcohol.  It also pre-dates other well-known temperance fountains such as the Cogswell Temperance Fountain (1880) located on Indiana Plaza in Washington, DC and the Temperance Fountain (1888) located in New York City’s Tompkins Square Park.   In addition to instruction and inspiring the public through “moral suasion” to cease alcohol consumption, the members of the CTAUA also saw this as their opportunity to build a patriotic monument that demonstrated their loyalty to the nation.  In selecting prominent Irish Catholics for the auxiliary statues and the reliefs, the CTAUA was demonstrating to the world the contributions made to the Republic by fellow Irishmen and Catholics during a time of strong prejudices towards the Irish-Catholic community.  PPR hopes restoration of the fountain will preserve this large-scale public-art landmark so that it can continue to tell the story of the temperance movement, immigration, Centennial history, and the history of public drinking fountains.


The largest obstacle to be overcome when undertaking a capital improvement project of this scale is always funding.  Securing enough funds to complete the project when there are multiple worthy historic and non-historic park projects competing for the same resources is a tremendous challenge.
     After careful study and much discussion, PPR determined that it was not feasible at this time to return drinking water to the fountain.  The existing steel piping was over a century old and was not repairable.  However, the most important determining fact was that the original fountain water  source, a reservoir, had been disconnected and demolished, requiring construction of a new underground pumping, recirculation, and filtration system.  It would also require 100% dismantling of all statue bases and fountain walls, which would increase the budget exponentially.  The options for preserving the fountain as a monument were formulated so as to not preclude future operation.
     The conservation challenges were complex.  Specific problems included:
1. Selecting the right conservation team was immensely important to the success of this project, as it had to incorporate a wide range of masonry-conservation skills and expertise, including:  stone consolidation, crack injection repair, cementation crack-fill repair, mortar patch repair, pin-anchor repair, flush-Dutchman installation, decorative carved-Dutchman installation, honing of incised surface graffiti, blind-pinning of marble fragments, and the re-carving of missing features.
2. There are very tight, hard-to-access tunnels under the monument that had to be inspected for structural stability during the design phase, then cleaned out and re-pointed during the restoration process.  The contactor had to have OSHA-approved confined-spaces training in order to do this work.
3. Adding new basin drains and installing all below-grade drain pipes.
4. Addressing the huge structural voids in the rock mound and under the stairs by injection grouting – making sure just the right amount was injected was crucial to the structural stability of the monument
5. Designing a long-term solution for the build-up of water in the fountain basin and developing a solution to the standing water in the drinking fountains.
6. Member-by-member assessment of every stone, step, fountain wall, and individual sculpture, with the priority of preserving as much original fabric as possible.
7. Correcting the alignment of the granite stairs without complete removal.  The contractor was able to bring them back to an acceptable degree of level, but it was one of the most challenging aspects of the project.
8. Addressing the heavy atmospheric soiling, gypsum crusts, and metallic staining that was typical throughout.  This meant determining the gentlest means possible to clean the historical sculptural marble and granite using a variety of products and methods, including water, detergents, chemical cleaners, poultices, wet micro-abrasive cleaning, and lasers.  Sourcing Laas marble imported from the original marble quarry in northern Italy to carve the missing components and securing Deer island granite from Maine to match in color and texture the original steps.
9. Removing the large shrubbery from the site opened up the sight lines of the fountain, but it had the unexpected consequence of somehow making the fountain less visible to drivers.  Unbelievably, the fountain was hit by three different cars, through the construction fence, while the project was under way!
10. Working with the Streets Department to install new traffic signs and developing a new bollard scheme to ensure the continued protection of the monument.

Activities Undertaken

Below is an outline description of the crucial work that was completed during this project:

Demolition & Site Work – Unwanted trees, shrubs, stumps, and other vegetation were removed.  The main fountain basin, debris drain cavities, and terracotta drain lines from the fountain to the main collector were demolished.  Thirty new bollards/concrete footings were added to the perimeter of the site, just inside the curb, to protect the fountain from errant automobiles.  New road signs also were installed.

Father Mathew – Recommended repairs included stabilization of the head with an injection of structural masonry epoxy and removal of the corroded iron clamp at the back of the figure.  The clamp was replaced with stainless steel set with epoxy.  All open joints were re-pointed, and the sculpture was thoroughly cleaned to remove all atmospheric soiling, biological growth, and graffiti.  Cracks and crazing were routed out with a ⅛-inch Dremel tile bit to a depth of ¼ inch and patched with a compatible composite material.  Areas of disaggregation were consolidated using a hydroxylating conversion and siloxane treatment to assist in long-term preservation of the stone.  Areas of spalled stone were secured to the parent stone with threated -inch stainless steel rods set with masonry epoxy.  The missing scrolls were replaced, and other material losses were patched with composite.

Moses Sculpture and Base – The base restoration included removal of non-original coping stones located at the plinth of Moses, which had been added to conceal alterations to the plumbing.  The entire stone base required significant mortar replacement, structural injection of pressure grouting, stone re-setting, and complete re-pointing.  Mastic and paint removal was also required on the base.  The statue itself had significant linear cracking and crazing, and areas along the drapery required new pinning.  As described above, the statue was thoroughly cleaned and consolidated. Additionally, several missing elements were re-carved and replaced, including portions of the staff, the figure’s right finger and thumb, and the rays protruding from his head.

Fountain Basin – The existing concrete fountain basin was demolished and replaced with a new concrete slab with a water-proofing mem brane.  Settled areas of the foundation were re-inforced.  While the fountain basin was open, new piping was added for proper drainage to the underground drains.  The basin walls were dismantled and reconstructed with a pin system so that they are inter-connected.  Other recommended repairs included cleaning, consolidation, and Dutchman repairs similar to those in the list above.

Fountain Plaza Restoration – The plaza restoration entailed aligning displaced granite slab plates, stairs, treads and risers, and pressure grouting.  All joints in the marble and granite pavers were re-pointed.  All granite was cleaned using a ferrous-stain removal agent.

John Barry, Charles Carroll, and John Carroll – As detailed above, the remaining sculptures were cleaned, consolidated, their cracks repaired, and all elements re-pointed.  Holes in inaccessible locations of the drinking fountains were drilled to address the stagnant water problem.  New scrolls were added to the John Barry statue to replace those missing.  A reversible whitewash coating was applied to all fountain elements as a finishing touch to provide the fountain with one more layer of protection against the environment.

Community Impact

This project has tremendous community impact.  The CTAF sits in the middle of the Centennial District, an area which was developed with the goal of re-vitalizing the 700-acre Centennial landscape in order to make it a destination within the City.  One of the key goals of the Centennial District Master Plan to “reveal history by strengthening or making evident the important historical remnants of the Centennial Exhibition.” Another goal of the Centennial District Master Plan is to repair, strengthen, and expand connections between the park and the bordering neighborhood.  PPR and our partner, the Fairmount Park Conservancy, have shown a substantial commitment to revitalize the nearby park space through the completed plan of the Parkside Promenade, a plan which created a ;pedestrian-friendly entrance between 51st and 44th streets, and through the newly competed Parkside Edge Improvement Projects.  Both of the revitalization projects are within a mile of the CTAF.  Encouragingly, there are signs that the neighborhood is reversing its long decline, as new businesses, new housing, and refurbished housing are happening directly across Parkside Avenue.  Members of the community, including the West Park Cultural and Opportunity Center, the Business Association of West Parkside, and the Parkside Historic Preservation Corporation, have partnered with PPR on volunteer projects and are part of the Centennial District Steering Committee – evidence of growing park /community ties.
     From a historical preservation perspective, this project rescued one of the Fairmount Park’s, and the City’s, signature works of public art, one that was headed for collapse if the City did not act.  Located at the base of the Mann Music Center in the Centennial landscape of West Fairmount Park, this highly visible restoration will be viewed by millions, Philadelphians and visitors alike.
     In a year when there was national attention and dialog focused on public sculpture and monuments, when the public vigorously debated what our sculpture says about our beliefs and our identity, it is important to reflect on what the value of these types of works is to our cities.
     Preservation and conservation projects that deal with public art have significant cultural and social value.  Cities and parks with impressive public art provide communities with a strong sense of place.  When Philadelphians think of memorable spaces, we often think of our public landscapes containing great works of public art – the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Kelly Drive, and Rittenhouse Square.  In West Fairmount Park, it is hard to miss the Smith Memorial Arch and the Catholic Total Abstinence Fountain, features signifying that something about this location is noteworthy and memorable.  Public art is uniquely accessible to Philadelphians going about their daily lives.  It does not require them to seek out museums or other cultural institutions.  Citizens can experience it while making their daily commutes or by encountering it as they attend concerts or participate in high school football practices next to it.  It encourages people to ask questions:  “Why is this here?”  Or “Wow, who all these people and what do they have to do with each other?”  It makes us pay attention to our environment, connects us to our history, and helps us save meaningful places.  It demonstrates our civic vitality.

Ability to be a Model

As Americans for the Arts note in their “Green Paper” Why Public Art Matters, “The best of public art can challenge, delight, educate, and illuminate.”  The Catholic Total Abstinence Fountain certainly is one of the best public art pieces in the City of Philadelphia.  The City  should continue to use projects such as the conservation of the CTRAF and the recent high-profile work on the William Penn sculpture atop City Hall as models to demonstrate how architects, design professionals, civic leaders, and elected officials can come together to save and preserve public art, despite its often high price tag.  Preserving large monumental works of public art is an important civic duty and something indispensable to city life.  We hope you agree!