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Captain Ball Fountain in Warwick inspires a research project

  • 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 water flowing down Mount Grace. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • The lower plate on Captain Ball’s Fountain in Warwick. The inscription on the lower section of the bowl reads “Erected 1900.” CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Captain Ball’s Fountain was manufactured by Henry F. Jenks of Pawtucket, R.I. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/13/2019 10:15:17 PM
Modified: 12/13/2019 10:15:02 PM

WARWICK — In the center of town, in front of the Warwick Free Public Library, sits the Captain Ball Fountain. Typically known as “the town fountain,” 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?

That’s what Warwick Community School Librarian Erika Nygard decided to ask when she needed to pick a topic to research for her cultural heritage informatics class.

As part of the final class toward her master’s degree in 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 bit.ly/34fhm0R.

A winding search for facts

Described as “for man or beast,” the upper basin of the fountain acts as a horse trough. The base offers an annular channel for use by smaller animals. It provides a constant flow of water, spring fed from the water 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, Nygard found it was manufactured by Henry F. Jenks of Pawtucket, R.I. In 1871, Jenks opened his own foundry, “The Jenks Iron Foundry,” and began making fountains. Though Nygard learned Jenks built similar fountains that are across the country, the Warwick fountain is the largest made in its 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, and required that she learn the time periods that each of them would have been alive. The correct Capt. David Ball took part in Battle of Gettysburg in 1863 and was a highly esteemed veteran of the Civil War, Nygard said.

Another aspect of the project that proved different than anticipated was Ball’s relationship with Julia B. Thayer of Keene, N.H., who is said to have donated the fountain to Warwick in 1900. While it was initially believed she was Ball’s daughter, the dates didn’t add up. Nygard used a historical book written by Charles Morse 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, she said, is still a bit of an unknown. According to Nygard’s website, Thayer donated to many causes, including hospitals, libraries and churches.

“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 Warwick 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. The photos of this trough can be found on the project’s website.

Uncovering hidden treasures

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

“I became interested in digital libraries, the connections and technologies people use to get their 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 has been the Warwick Community School librarian for the last three years. Hailing from Edinburgh, Scotland, she moved to Warwick with her husband, Mark Nygard, after they met while she was completing her bachelor’s degree in communications in the late ‘90s.

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.

Nygard said she is interested in digging up information that 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 they’re not physically able to be there.”




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