Detroit Landmark: Bagley Memorial Fountain
Visitors to downtown Detroit often notice a fountain made of beautiful pink granite, with carved lions spouting water, in Cadillac Square Park. The Bagley Memorial Fountain was named after the 16th governor of Michigan, who paid for the creation of the fountain. But the fountain traveled to a surprising number of homes before it came to rest in Cadillac Square.
Bagley served as a Detroit alderman from 1860–61 and as police commissioner from 1865-72 before being elected governor in 1873. After his death in 1885, the Bagley family found that the late governor had left $5,000 in his will for the creation of Detroit’s first drinking fountain to provide cool, clean water to city residents.
The family chose Henry Hobson Richardson to design the fountain in 1885. Richardson was a famous American architect, on par with Frank Lloyd Wright, and his designs have been featured in cities ranging from Boston to Chicago to Pittsburgh. The Bagley fountain is, today, the only work by Richardson in the Detroit area.
The fountain was dedicated in 1887 at the corner of Woodward Avenue and Fort Street. Richardson modeled it after a canopied structure in St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Italy, and it bears the inscription: TESTAMENTARY GIFT FOR THE PEOPLE FROM JOHN JUDSON BAGLEY.
The fountain was placed on the State Register of Historic Places in March 1971 and to the National Register later that year, in November.
The fountain was moved to Campus Martius in 1926 due to increased auto traffic in the area, and in 2000, the fountain was removed, taken a part and put in storage. Sometime in the next few years, the lion fountainhead was stolen.
Finally, in 2007, the fountain was installed in its current location, with a new lion fountainhead to replace the stolen one.
More information about the fountain and the governor it is named after is available by visiting http://detroit1701.org and clicking on “Public Art and Sculpture.”
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in southeast Michigan. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by Andrew Jameson.