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Couple gives fountain back to Pa. borough

November 03, 1999

By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro

Photo by RICHARD T. MEAGHER / Staff Photographer


MERCERSBURG, Pa. - Robert and Esther Grove went to considerable effort and expense to buy and restore a 15-foot-high cast iron fountain that graced the town square for most of the first half of the 20th century.

cont. from front page

The Groves bought the fountain from the estate of a Windber, Pa., collector and set up it next door to their pre-Civil War home at 57 N. Fayette St.

To make room for the fountain, they razed an empty church that once stood on the lot.

The fountain, with water flowing down four graduated tiers, creates on the lot a park-like setting in which local residents are invited to take graduation and wedding photos or simply meditate.

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Adding to the ambiance are 11 flower urns that rim the fountain's edge, a Victorian street light that once stood in the square next to the fountain and a park bench.

The pool is rimmed by hand-carved limestone and the 1901 cornerstone from the old church. The stones that give strength to the bottom of the pool also came from the church, Esther Grove, 72, said.

The pool serves as a playground for the Groves' grandchildren. "They love to slosh around in it," she said.

The Groves have deeded the lot and the fountain to the town. "We're just the caretakers," Robert Grove, 80, said.

The couple is setting up a trust to maintain the fountain through the next century.

"It's low maintenance but it has to be painted every other year," Robert Grove said. "The electricity to run the pump and the street light costs $10 a month." The town pays for the electricity and water.

The pool flows from Memorial Day to mid-October, when it is drained for the winter. The couple decorates the fountain at Christmas much like the Lions Club did when it stood in the square. Robert Grove was one of the members who decorated it.

Esther Grove keeps the urns filled with seasonal flowers just as the Mercersburg Women's Club did when it was in the square.

The Women's Club is mainly responsible for the fountain's existence, Esther Grove said.

"In 1915 the town decided to pave the street," she said. "They were going to leave a grassy area in the square until the Women's Club said a fountain would be much nicer. They raised about $375 to buy one. I think there was some other money, too."

The fountain was installed in 1916 and became a source of pride for the community, she said.

The fountain was fine in the days when there were few cars and traffic moved slowly. By the late 1950s it had had its share of vehicle collisions and had, in the eyes of local officials, become a traffic hazard.

Also, the town fathers were tired of paying for water that went into the fountain on a direct feed, flowed through and then went down the drain. "There was no pump in it to recirculate the water when it was in the square," Robert Grove said.

A decision by the Town Council to tear down the fountain was met with strong opposition from residents. On Aug. 10, 1959, the appointed day for removal, according to Esther Grove, some school students camped around the fountain in protest, but they had to go home at midnight because of a curfew.

"In the early morning hours before daybreak, while the town slept, borough employees moved in with trucks and heavy equipment and removed the fountain," she said. "The next morning the only thing the residents saw was a pile of rubble. People growled about it for years."

The fountain was stored behind the town building until May 1960, when it was sold to an antique dealer in Marion, Pa.

Later it was sold to another dealer in Johnstown, Pa., before ending up in the hands of the Windber collector, she said. The Groves bought it in 1991.

They declined to say how much they paid for the fountain or the restoration work, which included casting of a new second tier, new urns, and three of the fountain's four gargoyles, through whose mouths the water passes.

It took more than two years to restore and install the fountain on the church site.

The couple owned several business after moving to Mercersburg in 1955, including a wholesale seed business, a flower shop, a refuse pickup service, a wholesale oil company and two landfills, including what is now Mountain View Reclamation in Upton, Pa.

"We brought (the fountain) back to Mercersburg because we thought it was a nice thing to do for the people in the community," Esther Grove said. "Everybody liked the fountain. We had businesses in town and we just wanted to give something back."

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