For generations, passersby were encouraged to stop at the Richmond Fountain. Legend had it that those who drank from its water would always return to Providence. Nestled alongside the Benefit Street sidewalk, the fountain is situated against the Providence Athenaeum, its gothic facade made of carved granite, an East Side staple since the late 19th century. Pawtuxet River water flowed freely from the fountain for decades until the water ceased to flow and the structure fell into disrepair.
It wasn’t until 2015, when Matt Burriesci took over the Athenaeum as Executive Director, that he declared the need to get the beloved fountain running again. Thanks to a generous donation from longtime Athenaeum supporters Dick Gilbane and Candy Adriance, Burriesci’s dream quickly became a reality. After a year of renovation, the Athenaeum staff hopes the project will be completed soon.
“Restarting the fountain involved $20,000 in direct costs, not including significant in-kind support,” says Athenaeum Director of Marketing and Communications Robin Wetherill. The restoration included the installation of a new backflow preventer and water meter, flushing the fountain’s original drain. Also replaced was a burst pipe under the sidewalk that fed from the municipal water supply. All repairs were done by Malone Plumbing and Heating out of Cranston. The Athenaeum hosted a public Garden Party on May 20 when, for the first time in years, the fountain was turned on again.
First donated by Anna Eddy Richmond in 1873 and built by Boston architects Ware and Van Brunt “for the refreshment of the community,” the fountain served as likely the first public drinking fountain in Providence – and one of the first in the entire country. The restoration of the granite exterior of the fountain has yet to be completed, but the centuries-old granite will remain visually unchanged, its stone front still engraved with the stirring words, “Come here everyone that thirsteth.”
Buriesci says that the Athenaeum seeks to be the “fountain of living water” that its founders envisioned. He hopes that the fountain’s revival will “seek to elevate the public discourse by bringing Providence to the world, and by bringing the world to Providence.”