Multnomah County

Where We Live: Skidmore Fountain

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) -- Skidmore Fountain is Portland's oldest piece of public art and its story is a big part of where we live.

Stephen Skidmore's will literally made Old Town's Skidmore Fountain happen. The prominent Portland druggist wanted the city to have it after he saw similar fountains in Versailles, France. 

Skidmore bequeathed $5,000 when he died in 1883. Five years later, Skidmore Fountain was dedicated. The bronze and granite statue, Portland's first public art, anchored a Portland entertainment and later, warehouse district. 

"The fountain, when it was made, was to provide water for people, horses and dogs, so there's water at different levels," Peggy Kendellen with the Regional Arts and Culture Council said. 

Renowned sculptor Olin Warner designed the fountain. One of the ladies is thought to be in the image of his wife.

It cost $18,000 in 1888, well over $2 million in today's dollars. The fountain is pretty durable -- it was last renovated in 2005. 

"It remains in place even though people did want to move it, at the time," Kendellen said. "But it has remained there and this still has become a center of activity for the city." 

From the Saturday Market to Santa Con, Skidmore Fountain has always been in the middle of a good time.

If it were up to beer magnate Henry Weinhard, the times could have been better. Legend has it, Weinhard offered to pump beer through the fountain at the dedication in 1888, using fire hoses to feed the pumps. Worries about vandalism and theft squelched the idea.

Perhaps the famous inscription, "Good citizens are the riches of a city," written by prominent Portland poet, author and attorney C.E.S Wood, was as much about hope as civic pride.

The Skidmore Fountain is part of Portland's rough and tumble beginnings, the first landmark in a city that now has many.

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