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Roney Fountain Flowing Again
Durham, NC - Water flowed this week for the first time in over 75 years through all three tiers of the Roney Fountain, after it was moved from East Campus to Duke Gardens.
Getting it to its original splendor took an impressive effort from a collection of archivists, architects and Duke Gardens officials.
At one point, the fountain was one of the glory spots of the campus. A 1933 article on the Woman's College described "tall cat-tails and green umbrella plants ... planted around the edge of the pool, their shivering reflections in the water making a shadow over the floating pink and white water lilies. Blue water hyacinths and yellow water poppies with their big leaves are interspersed among the lilies. The fount itself has been converted into a bird bath, and around it are planted pickerel weed and pink Egyptian lotus."
But even at the time of that article, the fountain was falling into disrepair. It was already missing its original two top tiers, flanked by birds and topped by a crane with its wings spread. What happened is a mystery, said Duke Gardens Director Bill LeFevre.
"We have a picture taken in 1921 showing the entire fountain, with the crane on the top," LeFevre said. "And we have a photograph from 1933 showing just the lower bowl. We have nothing in the records, but between 1921 and 1933, somebody removed the top tiers and left just the bowl."
It remained in that state until this year. A 2010 Duke report on the fountain stated, "Today, the fountain remains in its 1930's configuration, but is heavily shaded by the large magnolia trees around it. Its metalwork is rusted, the basin in disrepair, and water is stagnant."
Its condition caught the attention of LeFevre, who was looking for another showpiece for the Gardens. As he investigated the possibility of moving it to Duke Gardens, LeFevre found that University Archivist Tim Pyatt was tracking the fountain's history.
Pyatt learned the original molds were made by the J.L. Mott Co. of New York City but were currently in the possession of Robinson Ironworks in Alabama. Those molds were used to recreate the fountain's top tiers.
Now the fountain stands in its original form in the Rose Garden, which is the first main feature visitors encounter when they enter Duke Gardens through the Gothic gates. The project was aided by a bequest from the late Dr. J. Robert Teabeaut II, a Duke alumnus, in honor of Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans.
LeFevre thanked everyone who worked on the project. "By the initial reaction of gardens visitors, it's a keeper!" he said.