A Fountain of Youth: Photo Op on the Square

The Vasbinder Fountain is a landmark in downtown Mansfield, but it is also a special bookmark among the pages of early memories of Mansfielders.  People remember being near it as a child, and the memory is warm with sunny goldfish, and gentle raining waters, and their familiars who are smiling.

For people who grew up in Mansfield—in the first half of the 20th century—it really is a fountain of youth…because whenever they see it, or it comes up in conversation, they always start talking about when they were young.

“We came out of church and walked over to the fountain.”  It is a memory seeded into a bed of well-being, and belonging; of family and identity.  Back then you could amble into Central Park and it was like entering a green-canopied and shadowy kind of sanctuary—set aside for slow strolling and park benches made for conversation in the cool shade.

The noise, the traffic and confusion were outside: inside was tranquil and relaxing, an island of dancing shadows as the breeze passed through, and squirrels that darted and approached without fear in a protected grove.

In the middle of it—in the very heart where all the walks converged—was the sparkling waterfall like an upwelling from the very wellspring of the city, manifesting its essential and vital source.  So vital and alive, to enter its aura was to have mist in your face, catching the sun like diamonds in your hair.

There was a pool around the foot of the fountain where gold fish curved and paraded in a mystic serenity just below the surface, like a glimpse into another world.  Children loved the fish pool—its edges were low and rounded smooth with years and years of one foot up for a few reflective moments.

The Square was a sort of inner sanctum to collect oneself, and near the fountain it was a little damp, a little dark and slightly isolated by the natural rhythmic patterns of the rainfall.  There were large urns made of stone, overflowing with flowers and colored leaves, that stood at the cardinal points of the circle in alignment with the Earth.

For grown ups the fountain was a refreshing retreat of delight and refinement tucked away in a world that didn’t always tend toward delight.  For kids it was simply enchanting.

Kids have always loved the fountain. Here they are in 1915.

The fountain provides a photo-op: kids from the Friendly House pose in the 1930s.

Little Eileen Wolford and her sibs do the obligatory fountain pose in the 1940s.

The Fountain was given to the city by Jane and David Vasbinder, and dedidcated on the Fourth of July in 1881. The map above from 1884 shows how the fountain was intended as the central focus of Central Park.

The fountain was moved in 1959 when Park Avenue was cut through Central Park, and when it was replaced in 1979 its new location was sited approximately where the old bandstand once stood, as seen in this 1920s postcard.

The Vasbinder Fountain spent a generation in exile- from 1959 to 1979-in the lawn of the Big House at Malabar Farm.

Children are enchanted by the fountain, and it has always attracted families on a sunny day.

The Vasbinder Fountain is a community funded civic project to provide personal higiene facilities and clean drinking water for the city’s avian population. (read: birdbath)

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