The "Ongoing" History of the Mackenzie Fountain

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Justin F. Mackenzie

“The subject of supplying the village of Woodstock with pure and wholesome water from some of the outlying streams of the town began to be agitated about the year 1878.”

History of Windsor County

On January 1879, at a Village meeting, O.P. Chandler, Justin F. Mackenzie, and Charles Chapman were appointed to a committee to “inquire as to the feasibility of obtaining a supply of water from Blake Hill, or other hills of the vicinity.” In January 1880, the committee reported their findings and estimated that such a project would cost $17,000. The report was accepted but there was no action planned. It was six years later that the Woodstock Aqueduct Company was incorporated with a capital stock of $36,000, in shares of $50 each. The general public was invited to buy stock which was issued to Frank S. Mackenzie. There were 17 stockholders at the beginning totaling $23,350 in capital investments. 

The company’s first action consisted of building a reservoir and pipe system to extend into the village.  This project was under the management and direction of the following persons:  J.J. Randall, designing engineer; T. William Harris, constructing engineer and subcontractor; R.D. Wood & Co., contractors. In early June 1887, work commenced on the reservoir which was built about two and a half miles westerly of the village on Thomas Brook (now Cox District Road), at an elevation of 260 feet above the Town Hall. With an insufficient number of workers in the region, the construction company brought in a large number of Italian laborers to work. Eventually, ten other nationalities were represented on the project. Within two months these hardy men had nearly completed the dam. The mains included 13,310 feet of eight-inch cast iron pipe, extending from the reservoir to the center of the village, 2,012 feet of six-inch cast iron pipe and 14,350 feet of four-inch cast iron pipe (including a four-inch supply from the Williams Brook or Saw-mill Brook to “strengthen” the supply) which totaled nearly 7 miles of pipe. The mains were laid six feet underground and gates were placed to shut off any street if so desired. In late October, workers closed the reservoir gates and the waters slowly rose behind the dam. Within two weeks, the new impoundment was full, and water was released into the mains. Only two pipes sprung leaks. To demonstrate the pressure, present in the system, the village fire department attached a one-inch diameter hose to the hydrant located near the Congregational Church and shot a powerful stream of water directly over its high steeple. Water started flowing into homes and businesses in late November 1887. The final cost of the project cost $35,000.

“The water is pure, clear, palatable and soft, enough for all household purposes. It is being used for cooking and drinking by all who have it, and to say that they are delighted with it feebly expresses the satisfaction manifested.”

Lithograph of the Mackenzie Fountain appears on July 11, 1889 in  The Vermont Standard.

Lithograph of the Mackenzie Fountain appears on July 11, 1889 in The Vermont Standard.

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A New Fountain

The Mackenzie Fountain was placed in the Village Square at the corner of Elm and Central Streets.

For over a year, people celebrated the fact that they had clear water flowing into their homes. On January 17, 1889, the village trustees were advised to replace the hand pump in the middle of the Village Square with something worthy of this achievement. They “were instructed by the annual meeting to put a drinking fountain into the Square, and in carrying out this vote it will no doubt be the purpose of the board to procure a fountain of approved pattern, with low as well as high basin, so as to accommodate small animals as well as horses and oxen. Such a one with dippers for the human kind is greatly needed.” The hand pump was removed in June 1889 to make room for the new fountain. According to an article in the The Vermont Standard on September 26, 1889, “The fountain in the Square has been raised on a granite base, octagon shaped, eight inches high. This greatly improves its general appearance.” The aqueduct pipes were attached to the fountain, which would provide running water for thirty livestock. The mid-section of the fountain featured several spigots designed for human drinkers and there were small basins placed low enough for Woodstock’s dogs and cats. The water provided by the Woodstock Aqueduct Company and the gas from the Woodstock Gas Light Company.

The fountain was presented to the town in 1889 by Justin F. Mackenzie (1816-1889), a prominent local resident. Mackenzie made his fortune operating mills in Quechee and was a vice president and director of the Woodstock railroad. He served on the Woodstock aqueduct committee which laid out the town’s first underground pipe system. The Village Trustees thanked him proclaiming resolutions on July 10, 1889.

The fountain had some design flaws from the start. “On account of a defect in the fountain, the beautiful fountain which was presented to the village by the late Justin F. Mackenzie, has been reset this week. It is also raised up about four inches so that when the concrete is replaced around it, water will run away from it and leave no pools. The waste water, which has heretofore dropped into a well close by will now be run into the Central street sewer.” The Vermont Standard, June 15, 1893. Several improvements were made over time including the repainting of the fountain in 1898.

The fountain was the center piece in the Village Square and many activities were held there. These included auctions, rallies and traffic control.

The fountain was the center piece in the Village Square and many activities were held there. These included auctions, rallies and traffic control.

By 1898, there were remarks that the Village Trustees were not keeping the fountain functional. “Thirsty horses look longingly at the fountain in the square which the trustees have not yet put in running order for the season.”

 It has been stated that the Mackenzie Fountain was scrapped in 1942 for the Town of Woodstock Scrap drive. This information is unsubstantiated as many large items that went for scrap were described in The Vermont Standard during this time. “Feeling is running high throughout Woodstock over the donation of the old steam roller and the foot bridge at the ball field to the scrap metal drive. The steam roller has been out of commission for the last three years and has been of no use to the village. It has been down at Holterman’s warehouse yard. There is some reluctance on the part of the Village Fathers to release the steam roller for the Victory Scrap Metal Drive. The town has donated two old bridges and a road machine.” According to Harry Ambrose in The Horse’s Mouth, he states, “At about the time the Woodstock Railway gave up the ghost… the tar and gravel road in the downtown square was replaced with concrete paving, and the grand old 1888 Victorian cast iron watering trough was removed. Dark green, almost black, the was so ugly and forbidding that when I was very young I was afraid of it, and would cross the square further up by Gillingham’s. The world’s greatest collection of ‘whatever’, Lyle Pearsons, had it for years, lying in pieces behind his River Street saw mill. I assume it ended up as scrap for the war.” The end of the Woodstock Railway occurred in 1933. Charlie English also remembers when the fountain, or parts of it, were located on River Street. “Part of the fountain, that part that could hold water was in fact behind Pearsons Barn on River St and was used as a watering trough for some of the animals in the “Pearsons Wild Animal Farm”. If you have any pictures taken of the Farm you might see it in the background. The fountain remained in place well after the Animal Farm was closed due to the shortage of food after the war started.”

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The Fountain

Lives on…

Several parts have been found over the years. The Woodstock History Center has in its collection two troughs, two gargoyle heads, and the main base. The upper portion has not been located and it is supposed that those parts did indeed get scrapped in 1942. If you have additional information pertaining to the Mackenzie Fountain, please let us know as we are interested in trying to reassemble as much as possible.