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Update: Fountain goes deeper – Sharing the stories behind the tiles

By Brenna Wiegand

A string of past Our Town stories reflect the flurry of activity encircling the old wading pool in Silverton’s Coolidge McClaine Park.

It all started in 2014 when Silverton participants in that year’s Ford Family Foundation Leadership program chose to beautify the wading pool/fountain in Coolidge McClaine as its public service project.

Ford Family Foundation offered $5,000 in matching funds to get the project off the ground.

Carol Williams, Mara’d Van Der Wal and Mike Williams perch on the bench where its last tiles were recently installed.
Carol Williams, Mara’d Van Der Wal and Mike Williams perch on the bench where its last tiles were recently installed.

City of Silverton built the pool during the Great Depression as a place for small fry to splash while the older kids cooled off in nearby Silver Creek.

“At the time, the area under the bridge by that low dam was designated the ‘Swimming Pool,’” local historian and author Gus Frederick said. “It had been repurposed in the 1920s after the Fischer Flour Mill closed.

“It was much deeper then, and the concrete pedestals along the side were the diving board support bases,” Frederick said. “The wading pool was added to give the little kids a place to frolic, its water pumped from the creek.”

Eventually, the county shut it down as changing regulations required the water be treated for use as a wading pool. Soon after, the city repurposed it into a fountain, free of such regulations.

With the advent of a proper town swimming pool, built in 1938 with WPA funding and opened in 1940, the creek’s popularity waned, and the wading pool fell into neglect.

There was a period during the 1980s when the little pool enjoyed special TLC from city employee Leo Rumely. After his life was tragically cut short it was rededicated as the Leo Martin Rumely III Memorial Fountain.

The fountain mostly resumed its descent into disrepair until the Ford Foundation cohort commenced its project in 2015. It entailed the application of mosaic art to the entire structure including its concrete bench. 

Volunteers were enlisted, led by professional mosaic artist Lynn Takata, author of the large mosaic at the
old Salem YMCA building, who held workshops training others how to create the many mosaics involved.

Local painter Laura Lucero designed and mosaiced the new fountainhead which had to be brought in by crane.

In 2016 the group expected to be putting the last tiles and panels into place by May in time for its dedication to the city that Father’s Day, though there was still much to be done.

Our Town left off in 2018 during a “final push” to complete the project, which proved much more complex and expensive than anticipated – as much an architectural project as an art endeavor.

Volunteers and funds had dwindled, and the group was struggling to compensate Silverton mosaic artist Christine Carlisle, who had taken over for Takata a year-and-a-half into the project.

The two left standing were Cindi Bates and Mara’d Van Der Wal with intermittent help from others.

“Over the years we’ve had a lot of volunteers, but once it was dedicated and turned over to the city everybody just kind of drifted off,” Bates said.

“There were four or five of us that stuck it out until three years ago and then all of a sudden it was just Cindi and I and occasionally Gail Mitchell,” Van Der Wal said. “We had sold the panels, but we didn’t have the artwork or the panels completed to put on the bench.

“People had other things going on in their lives apart from manufacturing artwork.”

Silverton children enjoying the fountain in the 1930s.
Silverton children enjoying the fountain in the 1930s.

Part of the project’s early fund raising involved selling custom-designed mosaic panels – to businesses, service clubs, various causes and, as in the case of Carol and Mike Williams, in memory of loved ones. The Williams panel celebrates the life of their son in the form of a Green Bay Packers jersey bearing the number 41 – Eric’s age at his death.

“All of our family are huge Green Bay Packer fans and shortly before Eric passed away, we went to a game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay and had jerseys designed with our names on them for the occasion,” Carol Williams said. “My daughter designed the panel and the mosaic artist did a wonderful job carrying it out.”

It was finally placed on the fountain’s concrete bench just a couple of months ago, and it was during the Williams’ visit that an idea emerged.

“My daughter and I got to wondering about the other stories behind the tiles and who made them,” Williams said. “She suggested putting together an online document for visitors to access.”

Williams’ daughter, Marnie Jewell, has taken on the project. They plan to have a QR code affixed to the bench, allowing anyone with a smart phone to access the stories. 

Local organizations and remembrances profiled on the fountain mosaic.
Local organizations and remembrances profiled on the fountain mosaic .

Now they’re hoping the community will respond by sending in written contributions, whether about the loved one commemorated in a panel, the pool and fountain’s history or the experiences of those who worked on it, including who created each panel.

Though it has been a long haul, Bates and Van Der Wal feel fortunate to bear witness to innumerable acts of kindness toward the fountain over the last seven years.

“Miracle after miracle that has happened down here,” Bates said. “I want to give kudos to the high school kids; some students even made it their senior project.

“The city maintenance guys have been wonderful, and many adults pitched in along the way,” Bates said. “We came down here one day last summer and Gail Mitchell had gotten it all cleaned up for the Homer Davenport festival.”

The elephant in the room is that the fountain pool is rarely in operation. Even for the Homer festival, it was clean – but dry.

“The city is honoring a water shortage; I think there’s a moratorium,” Bates said.

Bates and Van Der Wal said they hung in there because they were keeping a promise to the community; namely, making the fountain a beautiful feature that reflects the community and the region and providing a fun place for kids to romp.

“However, they should wear water shoes because the tiles do have sharp edges and can be slippery when wet,” Bates added.

Williams has high praise for those whose efforts have resulted in the beautiful, finished product.

“It would be wonderful  if we could figure out a way to have the water going,” Williams said. “I love water; it’s my thing, and it just makes my heart hurt every time I go down there.”

She also thinks a splash pad modeled after that at the State Capital would be a terrific addition to Silverton’s new Civic Center.

To share your stories of the Community Fountain, go to: https://bit.ly/3CpMhMe

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