Thursday, May 13, 2021

Itinerant Landmark

by Paul Armstrong

For over 40 years an ornate drinking fountain for horses and dogs stood at the intersection of Assembly and Lady Streets. After hearing a lot of questions and varied stories about the history of this fountain, I decided to search the archives to see what I could find. It turns out this iconic piece of Columbia lore was moved around quite a bit over the decades. Below is the story of what I found while researching the National Humane Alliance Fountain. (There was a second animal fountain on Assembly Street that you can read about at this link: In Memory of Dick and Fan.)

The National Humane Alliance Fountain at Earlewood Park
Photo by Author, May 8, 2021

The National Humane Alliance was founded in 1897 by Herman Lee Ensign, a successful New York advertising executive, to promote the compassionate treatment of animals. At his death in 1899, Ensign left a sizable endowment to be used by the Alliance to provide fresh drinking water for horses and other animals by donating fountains to cities across the United States.  Under the direction of Ensign’s lifelong friend, Lewis M. Seaver, the National Humane Alliance donated fountains to over 120 communities beginning with Binghamton, NY in 1903.

In 1907, Belle Williams, president of the Columbia Civic League, learned of the National Humane Alliance’s activities and convinced her organization to pursue a fountain for Columbia.  The Civic League’s application for the fountain was endorsed by City Council, the Chamber of Commerce, and The State Newspaper. In September 1907, Lewis Seaver visited Columbia, assessed several proposed locations for the fountain, and decided upon the site at the intersection of Assembly and Lady Streets.  Seaver then sent a letter to City Council offering the fountain free of charge if the city agreed to transfer the fountain from the train car, place it on a good foundation, install plumbing and water connections, and guarantee a continuous fresh water supply and permanent maintenance. City Council agreed to the Alliance’s conditions and a fountain was procured, shipped to Columbia, and installed in July 1908. 

Manufactured by the Bodwell Granite Company of Vinalhaven, ME, Columbia’s fountain is of polished granite with bronze trimmings.  It is six feet, eight inches high and five feet in diameter.  There is an upper trough that was used for horses and four smaller troughs around the bottom for dogs. Water streamed from the mouths of two lion heads into the upper trough and trickled through pipes to the lower troughs. For over forty years it stood in the area of the Assembly Street Curb Market quenching the thirsts of humans’ best friends and most loyal servants.

The National Humane Alliance Fountain on Elmwood Avenue in 1955
Photo Courtesy of The State Newspaper Photograph Archive of the Richland Library

In 1951, the Assembly Street Curb Market was closed after the new State Farmers Market opened on Bluff Road.  Shortly thereafter, the National Humane Alliance fountain was removed from Assembly Street and installed on the median of Elmwood Avenue at Bull Street.  Around 1960, it was moved again when Elmwood Avenue was upgraded to handle the traffic generated by completion of the new Interstate-126 business spur route into Columbia. This time the fountain was turned over to the City of Columbia’s Parks and Recreation Department and placed on exhibit at Earlewood Park off North Main Street where it stood for approximately 20 years.

The National Humane Alliance Fountain in Front of the Township Auditorium, 2009

In honor of the Township Auditorium’s 50th Anniversary celebration in 1980, the Parks and Recreation Department donated the fountain to the venue.  It was moved to the concrete paved area in front of the Township on Taylor Street where it was displayed for 29 years. In 2009, the fountain was removed from in front of the auditorium and placed in storage to make room for expansion of the facility.

In 2012, after much effort by members of the Earlewood Community Organization, led by Elizabeth 'Aunt Lib' Davis and Fred Monk, the fountain was returned to Earlewood Park.  It now sits in a garden adjacent to the park’s new community building. The garden is named ‘the Elizabeth Glover Davis Garden’ in honor of Aunt Lib.

Other South Carolina communities that have National Humane Alliance fountains include Abbeville, Camden, Georgetown, and Laurens. All of these fountains are currently displayed in public squares and parks. 


  • “Business Men Outline Work.” The State, March 12, 1907, page 5.
  • “Chamber of Commerce.” The State, June 11, 1907, page 9.
  • “City Council.” The State, March 13, 1907, page 9.
  • “City Fountain Given by Humane Alliance.” The State, March 26, 1907, page 9.
  • “The Columbia Daybook.” The Columbia Record, September 15, 1955, page 13.
  • "Columbia, SC Fountains." Electronic Valley, Inc., Derby, CT.
  • “Daybook.” The Columbia Record, September 20, 1955, page 9.
  • “Death of H. L. Ensign.” Burlington Daily News (Burlington, VT), February 11, 1899, page 6.
  • “A Drinking Fountain Has Been Given the City.” The State, September 18, 1907, page 6.
  • “Handsome Fountain Has Been Installed.” The State, July 6, 1908, page 8.
  • Holleman, Joey. “100-year-old animal fountain will return to Earlewood Park.” The State, April 26, 2012, page B6.
  • “Itinerant Landmark.” The State, December 9, 1953, page 4.
  • “Live Wire.” The Columbia Record, August 19, 1982, page 2.
  • “Mary Elizabeth Glover Davis.” The State, February 2017, page 12C.
  • National Humane Alliance Fountains Facebook Page.
  • “The Patriotic Societies.” The State, December 15, 1907, page 6.
  • “Public Fountain Will Arrive Soon.” The State, May 29, 1908, page 10.
  • “Secretary Moorman’s Report, The State, November 26, 1907, page 8.
  • “Selecting a Location for Drinking Fountain.” The State, March 21, 1907, page 6.
  • “State News Items Here and There.” Buffalo Evening News (Buffalo, NY), April 6, 1903, page 17.
  • "A Watering Hole for Horses." Electronic Valley, Inc., Derby, CT.
  • “Williamston.” Vermont Watchman and State Journal (Montpelier, VT), April 16, 1903, page 5.


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