When the class of 2019 recently announced their senior gift of a fountain on the quad, one of the fundraising chairs, senior Andie Chandler, described the fountain as having a “rich history.”
Hillsdale has, in fact, had multiple fountains on campus through the decades — including one that students blew up with dynamite in a prank gone wildly awry.
The first fountain was donated by the class of 1886 as a senior gift. The news was announced in the May 1886 edition of the Collegian’s predecessor, the Hillsdale Advance:
“With commendable zeal and a bright seizing of the occasion, the departing class leaves a memorial on our campus that will be one of its chief ornaments, a thing of use and beauty — an ample fountain, to be located, probably, in the center of the front walk, halfway to College Hall from the street, in the open circle of evergreens that will stand guard over its splashing waters.”
The total cost for the fountain in 1886 was around $300, a total that the seniors could not raise on their own. However, the college and many townspeople donated in order to see the fountain come to actuality.
In the Dec. 9, 1971 edition of the Collegian, one article mentioned that students had used a pipe system to get running water from Baw Beese Lake for the fountain. The water sprayed out of the mouth of a stone goose, which was held by a little stone boy.
The old fountain was originally placed in front of Central Hall, a picturesque setting that was the shot for many Hillsdale College postcards in the early 20th century.
That fountain was moved to another location on the edge of campus two years later, however, largely due to complaints from students who were getting wet. There was a walkway on either side of the fountain, and depending which way the wind blew on a given day, students would be soaked by the water spraying from the fountain.
Despite the epigram “No Effort Lost” inscribed at its base, the college ceased efforts to keep the fountain running around the time of the first World War.
On April 18th, 1918, a reporter for the Collegian complained that the fountain had not been running since the fall of 1916.
The reporter sought change in whichever way possible, stating,“If the fountain needs repairs, then let it be repaired. If funds for such work are scarce because of war times then there are many students that would willingly devote a few hours of labor to put it into running order.”
It was not until another year passed when the fountain was restored. In May of 1919, a janitor by the last name of Van Patten decided to clean out, refill, and repaint the fountain.
The fountain contained rich, comical stories while it lasted. For example, upperclassmen would throw freshmen in the fountain as a means of hazing. Another time, a boy was fully immersed in the fountain on accident — he fell into the basin at the dedication of the Alpha Kappa Phi Civil War monument.
The fountain remained standing on campus until April of 1940, when unknown vandals destroyed it with a stick of dynamite.
On the front page of the April 23, 1940 edition of The Collegian, an announcement read:
“Startled students leaped from their beds Sunday night, April 14, at 12:30 a.m. when they heard a deafening explosion. Upon inspection, they discovered that it wasn’t someone bombing the city, but an explosion in the fountain located in front of the Civil War Memorial on campus.”
A fuse was found in the damage, but the culprits were never caught.
Even two years afterward, in the May 5, 1942 edition of The Collegian, a reporter said that “nobody yet brought the conspirators to their knees, because their motive [was] uncertain.”
“People always gave me the impression, when they talked about it, that they figured they knew who did it, but nobody was ever arrested,” Mossey Library employee Linda Moore said.
But that was not Hillsdale’s only campus fountain. In 1992, the senior class proposed to build another fountain. The class achieved this goal but only with great financial help from the Student Federation. As seen in The Collegian articles from that time, several students resented the decision to allocate student fees for the fountain, especially because the class of 1992 was only planning to cover about $1,000 of the proposed $8,000 cost.
Nevertheless, after a lot of time, funds, and labor, the new fountain was built. It was also repaired multiple times within the first year following damage from student pranks.
After three pranks, the college refused to pay the several hundred dollars worth of repairs for the fountain and it soon fell to disuse. In 1993, Collegian staff writer David Joy described the fountain as a “serious blemish to our campus.”
A few years ago marked the most recent episode in the campus fountain saga. According to Moore, it was discovered that a city resident had picked up a few pieces of the first fountain years after the dynamite incident, and someone later returned them to the college.
But due to the projected costs, the college could not restore the piece, and it remains somewhere within the Fowler Maintenance building.
Despite their unfortunate endings, the fountains were supposedly delightful while they lasted. In the April 18, 1918 edition of the Collegian, a reporter said the front campus was “a beautiful picture with the fountain running in the foreground, backed by the magnificent soldier’s monument with the rose bushes at its base and [a] splendid flag waving above it.”