Kilbon Memorial Fountain
“No one can doubt that [this memorial] will ever be guarded and maintained as one of the town’s most valued possessions…let the people of the town of Lee…resolve that in the years which are to come, they will work still more earnestly and unselfishly for the public good.” — George P. Lawrence
Dedicated in 1899 and carved from Lee marble, the original Kilbon Memorial Fountain included drinking fountains for horses and people, plus two dog bowls at the base. The design by the famous sculptor Daniel Chester French depicts local Chief Konkapot of the Stockbridge Mahican Indians, and a stylized dolphin on the reverse.
After nearly 120 years and two relocations, the fountain was badly weathered, cracked and inoperable. Berkshire Gateway Preservation (BGP) got enthusiastic support from the Town of Lee, the Lee Chamber of Commerce, the Lee Historical Society, the Lee Historical Commission, Housatonic Heritage and Tower Stone, and it was a proud moment for the people of Lee in the spring of 2019 when the beautifully restored Kilbon Memorial Fountain was rededicated.
Images after Restoration
Today’s Master Craftsman – Verne Tower
Verne Tower executed every detail of the fountain’s restoration. From his studio in nearby Richmond, he melds together the best techniques from the past with the technologies of today. When working as an artist and sculptor, he wields the same nineteenth century tools as the craftsmen who originally carved the monument. But in preserving the stone for the future, he relies on the best materials that contemporary science can bring.
Outwardly the fountain now looks very much the same as it did over a century ago. Internally, it has been transformed with fiberglass rods, modern-day epoxies, and new plumbing that will endure long into the future. An invisible coating protects it from the elements that so ravaged it in the past.
To be sure, the fountain does not look entirely new. It still bears the marks of wagons and harnesses that scraped against it while horses sought refreshing drinks. All the more remarkable is the restoration that Verne brings to this work of art. His discerning eye critiques each blemish to make his subtle repairs entirely disappear. The brass fixtures are all handcrafted anew yet look like they’ve been there forever. In his studio he leaves a trail of pigment tests and model prototypes. At every step he brings a broad knowledge of chemistry, physics, and engineering to his task. In turn, he brings us a very special gift – the renewed fountain for everyone to treasure in years to come.
The fountain was dedicated in memory of Amelia Jeannette Kilbon of the Loyal Temperance Legion, who sought to make public drinking water accessible to the Lee community. Kilbon led the fundraising for the fountain, but died before its completion and dedication on November 17th 1899. The final result was more elegant than initially planned, thanks to the artistry of Daniel Chester French, whose Chesterwood studio is located in nearby Stockbridge. The dedication ceremony noted how the project brought together the community:
“If this monument shall have any significance to future generations…may it symbolize a devotion to the common welfare which makes for civic integrity and…may it awaken a new and intenser loyalty to the highest interests of the honored town in which our lot was cast.” — Mr. Edward Rogers
The fountain was originally installed at the intersection of Railroad St. and Main St. With the advent of automobiles and need for parking spaces, the fountain was relocated near Memorial Hall, and finally to the Church Park.
References and Further Reading
“Impressive Dedication Of Lee’s Beautiful Memorial Fountain Designed by Daniel C. French Full Text of Addresses By Hon. George P. Lawrence.” Valley Gleaner. 22 Nov. 1899.
Morrissey, Mary Hayes. “Ref: Drinking fountain owned by the town which is in the park owned by the First Congregational Church of Lee, MA.” Sept. 26 2017. View Document.
“Sergeant & Konkapot, 1972-1976.” Sergeant & Konkapot, Norman Rockwell Museum, www.nrm.org/MT/text/Konkapot.html.
Yeo, Douglas. “Public Drinking Fountain (‘Chief Konkapot’).” Daniel Chester French: Public Drinking Fountain (“Chief Konkapot”), 22 Sept. 2004, www.yeodoug.com/resources/dc_french/lee/dcfrench_lee_fountain.html.