The tale of the town fountain in Warwick

  • The lower plate on Captain Ball’s Fountain in Warwick. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • The Captain Ball’s fountain was manufactured by Henry F. Jenkins Co. of Pawtucket, RI. In 1871, Jenks opened “The Jenks Iron Foundry” and began manufacturing fountains. Jenks had built similar fountains, which are located in several parts of the United States. The Warwick fountain, however, is the largest made in this style. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Captain Ball’s Fountain is located outside of the Warwick Free Public Library. Erected in 1900, it provides a constant flow of water, spring fed from the waters flowing down Mount Grace, and is still used by town residents to this day. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/14/2019 6:53:21 AM

WARWICK – Located in the center of town, in front of the Warwick Free Public library, sits the Captain Ball Fountain. Typically known as “the town fountain” Warwick residents regularly drive or bike by the ornate Victorian cast iron drinking fountain, sometimes stopping to fill their water bottles. But how many stop to ask why the fountain came to be in the first place?

When tasked with picking a topic to research for her Cultural Heritage Informatics class, Warwick Community School Librarian Erika Nygard said the town fountain came to mind.

“Every now and again I would ask people – what do you know about it?” Nygard said.

As part of the final class toward her master’s of library and information science from Kent State University, Nygard created a website to share the rich history of the fountain, the company that made it, and Capt. David Ball, whom it was named after. The website can be found at https://eanygard.wixsite.com/capt-ball-fountain.

Described as “for man or beast,”

the upper basin of the fountain acts as a horse trough and is designed to be at the height for horses to drink without riders dismounting. The base offers an annular channel for use by smaller animals. It provides a constant flow of water, spring fed from the waters flowing down Mount Grace. The center of the basin contains a jamb from which four mythical aquatic figures spout water. An extra fish head appears at the end of a “jug filler” pipe, installed in 1979. Two drinking cups were originally attached, but were removed following a law banning public drinking cups in 1910.

In researching the fountain manufactured by Henry F. Jenks Co. of Pawtucket, RI. In 1871, Jenks opened his own foundry “The Jenks Iron Foundry” and began manufacturing fountains. Nygard learned Jenks had built similar fountains, which are located in several parts of the United States. The Warwick fountain, however, is the largest made in this style.

While Nygard knew the town fountain was named after Capt. David Ball, she discovered there was more than one David Ball from Warwick. She said trying to figure out which Ball it was dedicated to was “fun.” She had to figure out the years the different Balls would have been alive. The correct Capt. David Ball took part in battle of Gettysburg in 1863 and was a highly esteemed vet of the Civil War, Nygard said.

Another aspect of the project that proved different than originally thought was Ball’s relationship with Julia B. Thayer of Keene, NH, who is said to have donated the fountain to Warwick in 1900. While initially thought she was Ball’s daughter, the dates didn’t add up. Nygard used a historical book written by Charles Morse book in 1963, and discovered the dates were off.

“I took out a whiteboard, went into genealogical pages and drew maps to find out they were cousins once removed,” Nygard said.

The question of why Thayer donated the fountain, Nygard said, is still a bit of an unknown. According to Nygard’s website, Thayer donated to many causes, including hospitals, libraries and churches. Nygard noted that a newspaper clipping from the Greenfield Gazette & Courier, date July 7 1900, does not mention why the fountain was donated or in whose honor.

“Perhaps the town later decided to dedicate the fountain to the highly revered Warwick veteran of the Civil War and the famous battles on the field of Gettysburg?” Nygard writes on the website, “Perhaps we will never know?”

In addition to the town fountain, there was said to be a water trough along Route 78 in the northern part of Warwick. According to Morse’s book, one of the David Balls donated the trough during the mid-1800s, but nobody seemed to know about it. Nygard asked people at the Historical Society and around town until one resident, Martha Morse, a relative of Charles Morse, said she had something on her property that might be the trough. Nygard went to see it one day and the photos of this trough can be found on the project’s website.

In conducting her research, Nygard spoke with a combination of residents, including Larry Carey, president of Historical Society, a local poet and writer and longstanding Warwick resident, to see what kind of stories he had to share. To continue preserving local history, Nygard and others are working to bring “younger blood” to the Warwick Historical Society. She is also trying to move documents and other information onto online platforms and the Warwick Historical Society website.

While she has always enjoyed history and cultural heritage, Nygard said, the masters program strengthened this passion.

“I became interested in digital libraries, the connections and technologies people use get there information from electronic sources and the internet,” Nygard said of her studies. “Libraries, archives and museums have very rich resources in regards to heritage and history.”

Nygard said she is interested in digging up information that she feels would be detrimental to lose in the transfer from physical to digital filing.

“I was looking for ways to provide access to that information,” Nygard said. “There are so many wonderful things in dusty shelves or filing cabinets. It’s hard for people to get that if not physically able to be there.”

Nygard has been the Warwick Community School ibrarian for the last three years. Hailing from Edinburgh, Scotland, Nygard moved to Warwick with her husband, Mark Nygard, after they met while she was completing her bachelors in communications in the late ‘90s.

She came over to New England for a hiking trip during school break. She met Mark, who was a “46er” while on her trip. Adirondack Forty-Sixers are an organization of hikers who have climbed all 46 of the traditionally recognized High Peaks of the Adirondack Mountains. They have been married and living in Warwick for nearly 20 years now, she said.


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