WEST CHESTER >> It has been over 60 years since the five-tiered Victorian fountain stood in Marshall Square Park in West Chester.
But Friends of Marshall Square Park (FMSP), a West Chester community group, is changing that as they move forward in restoring the once big community magnet.
“A lot of people always thought it would be cool to get the fountain back,” said Jeff Beitel, president of FMSP. “It has been missing and not in the park longer than it was installed and running in the park.”
Originally installed in 1889 in the northeast corner of the park, it was once described by the Daily Local News in 1932 as producing “a genuine thrill, a gorgeous effect to be remembered.”
But some time in the 1950s, the fountain was disassembled and the top four tiers were removed, leaving behind just the bottom tier and the basin in the park.
“We have not been able to find any documentation of exactly when the fountain was taken down and we don’t know exactly for what cause,” said Jim Salvas of FMSP.
For some years, no one knew what happened to the tiers until Gene and Joan Gagliardi found them and installed three of the four tiers on their farm.
The top tier, however, was never found.
“(Gene and Joan Gagliardi) brought it back to their farm and restored it there as a working fountain,” Salvas said. “They kept it out there and maintained it for years.”
FMSP recovered the three tiers after the Gagliardis moved and have had them stored away since 2012.
That didn’t mean FMSP forgot about them.
In fact, as of that time, they began to draw up plans to fix up the tiers and remnants of the fountain in the park and restore it to its original beauty and back in its rightful place.
“Some of (the tiers) are a little rough and there is going to be some repairing on it,” Beitel said. “I think when we get it done and all painted up, nobody is going to know the difference.”
FMSP has been raising money, all through fundraisers and donations, without the borough paying a dine, to pay for the restoration.
On June 18, FMSP announced a donation of $45,000 from Pat Loew, widow of the developer and philanthropist Jack Loew, making her the park’s new benefactor.
“One of our members approached (Loew) at a function and told her all about what we were doing and that we were looking for donations,” Beitel said. “She is very honored to be able to help us out with this. It enabled us to get the project really rolling. Before her generous donation, we really didn’t have the money to pull the trigger. That has now allowed us to build on the momentum.”
Being the park’s benefactor will give Loew a plaque to name the fountain in honor of someone; she chose her late husband.
FMSP now has enough to pay for the entire restoration of the fountain and already has all the contracts in place to build a new basin and restore the iron tiers — and create a new top tier designed to look as close to the original as possible.
But they aren’t done fundraising yet.
“We’re trying to create it as a new gateway to West Chester,” Salvas said. “We’re putting in new park benches around there. The whole path down there will be reset.”
When all is said and done and residents drive down East Marshall Street toward the park, they will undoubtedly see the fountain not only during the day, but also at night as FMSP plans to install lights on it.
The hope, and tentative schedule, has the fountain being finished by late September or early October, just before the winter freeze sets in.
“A lot of people don’t realize that Marshall Square Park is the first original park West Chester dedicated and is actually seven years older than New York City’s Central Park,” Beitel said. “The fountain will be an amazing public feature for the park and the town itself. We’re quite proud to do this.”