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NYC: Union Square - James Fountain

Also known as the Union Square Drinking Fountain, this ornate piece by German sculptor Karl Adolph Donndorf (1835–1916) was donated by philanthropist Daniel Willis James (1832–1907) to promote the virtue of charity and temperance to 19th century New Yorkers. One of a few public drinking fountains of this type left, the figural group, appropriately named Charity contains a mother holding a baby with an infant at her left side. The fountain’s figures were modeled on the artist’s family and the granite is from Sweden. The lion’s heads on the fountain’s four sides dispense water; the fountain originally featured tin cups chained to the piece to allow passersby to quench their thirst.


The piece, located in an alcove on the west side of the park, was dedicated October 25, 1881. A civic patron, James intended his gift to function not only as a decorative work of art but also to propagate a lesson about kindness and charity. After visiting the artist in his native Germany and procuring a model of the fountain, James commissioned Donndorf to execute the piece.


Union Square National Register #97001678

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Taken on July 12, 2009