A few weeks ago we visited the Madonna of the Trail, a statue commissioned by the Daughters of the American Revolution and placed in twelve cities across the country to commemorate the National Old Trails Road. In that piece, I mentioned that Albuquerque seems to have plenty of historic monuments and memorials and they tend to move around a lot, often winding up in some out-of-the-way places. While this week’s featured monument may well have a lower profile than it once did, it has at least found a most suitable home outside the Animal Humane Association of NM at 615 Virginia St. S.E.
Once upon a time, a New Yorker named Hermon Lee Ensign invented a printing apparatus that made him a wealthy man. He was also an animal lover and founded the National Humane Alliance (NHA). His desire was to “spread about humanitarian ideas among the people.” He died in 1899 and, from 1906-1912, his estate gifted fountains to cities across the United States through the NHA.
Constructed of polished granite quarried in Vinalhaven, an island town off the coast of Maine, the fountains were intended to be used by animals, especially horses and dogs. For the horses, there was a large upper trough, fed by water streaming from the mouths of three brass lions. Critters of smaller stature could drink from four small troughs closer to ground level which filled with overflow from the upper trough.
About 125 cities received these fountains, most of which were similar but not necessarily identical. Albuquerque got an early model, built in 1907, and it was placed at the bustling corner of Central and Broadway. On top was a unique brass piece which held a glass globe illuminated by an electric lamp. Pretty snazzy. This was donated by Dr. W.G. Hope, who worked out of an office next door to what is now the Gold Street Caffé. The city handled the plumbing.
Much like the unveiling of the Madonna of the Trail statue, Albuquerque turned out in force to see the fountain’s public debut in 1908. There was a boy’s band in uniform. Speeches were made by the acting mayor, the sheriff, a district judge, and a lumber company president. Lots of school kids attended. The newspaper delivered a full report.
Then the fountain stayed put for quite a while providing, one assumes, much needed relief to any creature that might be passing. Probably more than one human dipped their face into the trough, seeking a little relief from the dust and heat. But, in the 1930’s, as animals were being replaced by automobiles, the fountain was moved to Tijeras and Broadway. At some point, probably after not encountering a horse for years, the fountain ended up at the NM State Fairgrounds, where it sat until 1975 when it was moved to make way for the bicentennial-year replica of the Liberty Bell.
I can’t say if the fountain made another stop on its way from the fairgrounds to the Animal Humane Association, but at least it has finally arrived at the right place. While you might not see much water in it these days, it is something to consider all the creatures that would have used the fountain since its crafting 117 years ago, the granite even appearing smoothed around the upper trough.
Hermon Lee Ensign’s gift is still worth paying a visit to, even if you’re not thirsty. And, who knows, you might go home with a new friend, which is surely just what Mr. Ensign would’ve wanted.
John Mulhouse is an Albuquerque-based frequenter of gravel roads, ghost towns, and empty buildings. His blog, City of Dust, features photos and hidden history from all corners of New Mexico and beyond. He publishes a ghost-town-photo-a-day on Facebook.