Now that summer is almost upon us, I’m once again drawn to the city’s fountains. I have written about several of them, either individually or as part of a series.
The Brewer Fountain
The Brewer Fountain on Boston Common, one of my favorites, draws people to sit around it from early in the morning to late at night. The plaza around the fountain turns into an impromptu outdoor living room, music studio, art gallery, and baby nursery.
In normal years, I would pass it several times a week on my way back to the Common Garage after giving a ghost tour for Haunted Boston. Even at 9:45 p.m., many people would still be enjoying the Brewer Fountain’s music in the summer darkness.
The 1855 Paris Exposition
Despite its name, the fountain has nothing to do with breweries or brewing and no beer drops into its basins. It was named for the man who paid for it and then donated it to the city of Boston. In 1855, Bostonian Gardner Brewer traveled to France to see the Exposition Universelle de Paris, a world’s fair. There, a fountain created by two French sculptors, Mathurin Moreau and Alexandre Lambert, caught his eye.
Displayed at the center of the exposition’s Grand Hall, this fountain displayed terraced basins with water gods and goddesses, spouting dolphins, children and other figures. It celebrated the power of water and the creation of a modern municipal water system in Paris.
Bringing the Fountain to Boston
Mr. Brewer decided that Boston was not to be outdone in that regard. After all, the city had created a municipal water supply that delivered clean drinking water from Lake Cochituate in 1848. Water power drove New England’s mills and, thus, the region’s prosperity. Mr. Brewer, one of Boston’s wealthiest merchants, had founded the house of Gardner Brewer & Co., which represented some of the largest mills in New England, (He did start in business as a distiller, though.)
Mr. Brewer was a man of liberal leanings and a philanthropist who often used his dry-goods fortune for the public good. He decided that Boston should have the fountain—or at least a version of it—and he possessed the millions to make it happen. He had the fountain cast in bronze directly from the original and shipped to Boston in 1868.
Originally, the Brewer Fountain was erected on the Boston Common near Mr. Brewer’s home at 30 Beacon Street—where John Hancock’s mansion once stood. The fountain remained on that site until around 1917, when it was moved to its present location closer to Tremont Street.
NOTE: Mr. Brewer was one of the two men who purchased the mansion and demolished it. They replaced the historic house with a row of brownstones, later themselves torn down and replaced with the west wing of the State House.
Greek Gods and Gold Medals
Alexandre Lambert Léonard did the fountain’s overall design while Mathurin Moreau sculpted the figures. The men won a gold medal for the two fountains they created for the exposition. The fountain’s base is decorated with the full-size figures of Greek gods and goddesses: Neptune, Amphitrite (Neptune’s wife), Acis and Galatea. The water drops into a granite basin.
The Brewer Fountain stands 22 feet tall and weighs 15,000-pounds. It began to function for the first time on June 3, 1868. It is one of 16 casts of the original that are still extant around the world, from Montreal to Buenos Aires.
Restoring the Brewer Fountain
Over time, the Brewer Fountain fell into disrepair and it stopped working altogether in 2003. In 2010 the City of Boston embarked on a $4.4 million project that expanded green space around in the fountain and enlarged Brewer Plaza. Improvements included the movable cafe tables and chairs, umbrellas, food trucks, a “reading room”, and a portable piano for lunchtime jazz that make the plaza such a vibrant part of the city. The Friends of the Public Garden raised money for the granite plaza, benches, curbs, and pathways.
Water began flowing again on May 26, 2010. The city, Friends pf the Public Garden and Lux Lighting Design added submersible and sculptural lighting to illuminate the fountain at night in 2018, which is why so many people find the plaza attractive after dark.
Gardner Brewer died in Newport, RI, in 1874 and is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery. The fountain he donated to Boston remains beautiful and vibrant, adding life and joy to the city.
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Finding the Brewer Fountain
If you’re coming by car, just park in the Common Garage and walk across Boston Common. Buy a sandwich from a food truck, then sit awhile, listing to the water music.
Posts on Boston’s Fountains
- The Angel of the Waters Fountain
- The Bagheera Fountain
- The Central Library Courtyard
- The Codfish Fountain
- The Copley Square Fountain
- The Ether Monument Fountain
- The Lotta Fountain
- The Statler Fountain