Fonts of Fun
A soothing and cooling summer tour of some of the area’s most noteworthy fountains
Close your eyes and imagine for a moment the soothing sounds of cool, clear water as it bubbles into a tranquil pool or jets into a cloudless sky. If you live in the western suburbs, it’s likely that a sunny stroll or a short drive will take you to a peaceful spot where you can take in the sight, the sound and the refreshing feel of water as it trickles through your fingers, cascades from on high or sprays a gentle mist as you walk by. Fountains are the works of public art that most closely connect us with the history, culture and social fabric of our hometowns. They are gathering places at times of celebration, playgrounds for the young and young at heart, and small havens for moments of silent contemplation or solitude.
Here are just a select few of the many noteworthy fonts and fountains sprinkled through the western suburbs, plus a trio of world class water features in downtown Chicago.
ADAMS PARK FOUNTAIN IN WHEATON
Sometimes, a fountain can capture a moment in history — as is the case with this 1885 beauty. The park it graces was once the site of a stately mansion owned by John Quincy Adams, a fourth cousin to the sixth President of the United States. The copper-clad fountain is in the Greek revival tradition and is ornately decorated with three female figures — one with a water vase, one with a string of flowers and the third with a horn of plenty. The fountain was bequeathed to the people of Wheaton in 1942 and is all that remains of a long-ago mansion and the gracious turn-of-the-century lifestyle it represented. A charming attraction in downtown Wheaton, it has nobly withstood the ebbs and flows of time.
WATER FEATURE AT CANTIGNY PARK IN WHEATON
Since the 1960s, when landscape designer Franz Lipp first laid out the formal gardens at Cantigny, there has been a fountain on this spot. The current interactive water feature opened in what is now called the Fountain Garden 2009.
SCOVILLE PARK FOUNTAIN (HORSE SHOW FOUNTAIN) IN OAK PARK
Alas, the original is long gone due to deterioration and eventual demolition, but Scoville Park now sports a replica of the 1909 Horse Show Fountain, attributed to architect Frank Lloyd Wright and sculptor Richard Bock. It was installed in 1969 to commemorate the 100th anniversary — two years earlier — of the birth of the noted architect.
The fountain’s rectangular design emphasizes its horizontal structure, with a top lintel supported by upright posts. At the base were two small pools — originally, it is said, meant to sate the thirst of dogs while horses drank from the upper basin. They are now prettily converted into flower beds and a human drinking fountain has also been added.
DANDELION FOUNTAIN ON NAPERVILLE RIVERWALK
Picturesquely named for its resemblance to the lowly wildflower that sheds its seeds in a spring breeze, this curious fountain is one of the jewels on the architectural necklace that adorns Naperville’s Riverwalk. A popular gathering spot at the corner of Jackson and Webster, this playful fountain bubbles with fun and sprays a gentle mist of water outwards in a perfect sphere around the “thistles” that emanate from its center.
The Riverwalk is also home to two other fonts. There’s the classic black-basin Horse Trough Fountain in White Plaza — and it did indeed cater to horses in the city’s early years. The Exchange Club Memories Fountain in Fredenhagen Park is surrounded by commemorative bricks with dedications or messages of personal milestones and even proposals of marriage.
RIVERWALK IN BATAVIA
The Batavia Riverwalk extends along Depot Pond and the Fox River and features this beautifully situated fountain with scenic views.
RAIN MAN IN GENEVA
“Rain drops keep falling . . .” on the corner of 3rd St. and Crescent, where Rain Man, by sculptor Miles Metzger, has stood in quiet contemplation since 2009.
VORTEX FOUNTAIN AT OAKBROOK CENTER MALL
In sun, snow or below-freezing temperatures, 40,000 gallons of water pump through Oakbrook’s magnificent plaza fountain. A series of concentric spirals works in harmony with water jets, lighting and seating to create a welcoming and relaxing public space. Heated to 50 degrees without the help of chemicals, the water swirls in constant motion. Powerful jets spray the crystal clear water 50 feet up into the air. At once visually dynamic and soothing and restful, the fountain, which is beautifully illuminated in the evening, makes the busiest of shoppers pause to contemplate the wonders of water.
MAIN STREET FOUNTAIN IN WET CHICAGO
Every fountain tells a story. In 1897, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, not wanting the unavailability of clean drinking water to cause men to quench their thirst with liquor, dedicated this simple drinking fountain at what is now the intersection of Main and Washington streets. Horses drank from the bowl, while a central raised bubbler gave relief to parched human throats. Twelve years later, the fountain moved to the north side of Washington Street, as it was directly in the path of construction crews laying track for the Aurora Elgin & Chicago interurban streetcar line. In the 1930s, it moved to Galena and E. Washington, where, lacking a plumbing hook-up, it was painted white and became a flower planter. Local lore has it that the fountain was “borrowed” for the 1963 Community High School prom. In 1995 it was sent to a conservator for restoration of its deep green, faux stone finish, then placed in its current home in a small park on Main Street.
PHILLIPS PARK FOUNTAIN IN AURORA
A three-tiered lighted fountain is the central attraction of the breathtaking Sunken Garden outside the park’s Visitor’s Center. Annuals, topiaries and shrubs enliven a 1930s garden that underwent a major renovation in 2002.
WASHINGTON PARK FOUNTAIN IN DOWNERS GROVE
This grand yet elegant focal point of Washington Park was added as part of a larger renovation project in 2010 that also included a new playground and shelter. Located on the former site of Washington School — the village’s second oldest, which operated from 1891 to 1978 — the fountain’s cascading waters offer a cooling sensory respite from the summer sun.
FRAGRANCE GARDEN FOUNTAIN AT THE MORTON ARBORETUM IN LISLE
Last summer saw the elegant addition of a gently cascading fountain to an existing still-water feature that has been in place at the Arboretum since 1985.
KUGEL BALL IN THE CHILDREN'S GARDEN AT THE MORTON ARBORETUM IN LISLE
Playing is learning at the site of this one-ton movable granite ball, suspended on high-pressure jets of water. It is prettily surrounded by etchings of leaves from different varieties of trees.
CITY CENTRE FOUNTAIN IN ELMHURST
What makes a city a community? Often, it takes a centrally located fountain surrounded by seasonal plantings, occasional benches and plenty of space for fun. This plaza is smack-dab in the middle of Elmhurst City Centre and is the venue for summer concerts and gatherings of all kinds. In winter, the water feature makes way for a Christmas tree and yuletide celebrations.
GARDEN WALK FOUNTAIN IN LISLE
In keeping with Lisle being home to The Morton Arboretum, the village’s downtown features a Garden Walk highlighted by a nature-themed fountain. Water tumbles over stone outcroppings and whimsical animals spout water that flows over the fountain’s eternity edges. Seating areas provide a comfortable place to enjoy and reflect.
TY WARNER PARK FOUNTAIN IN WESTMONT
Located within a family park, this fountain is purely for decoration, not for play. It’s a focal point, though, for summer concerts and other special events, like Westmont’s Independence Day Celebration, which brings 10,000-plus visitors to the park.
FONTS OF FUN IN THE CITY
BUCKINGHAM MEMORIAL FOUNTAIN IN GRANT PARK
No trip downtown is complete without a visit to Clarence F. Buckingham Memorial Fountain in Grant Park. Installed in 1927 and still one of the largest — and most impressive — fountains in the world, this miracle of art and engineering delivers an astonishing display of water pageantry every 20 minutes. At the crescendo, the center jet shoots water 150 feet into the air. Come dusk, a spectacular light and music show accompanies the display. Viewed from the lake or on shore against the city’s magnificent skyline, it is indeed a sight to behold.
A cool $17 million was well spent for the pleasure and intrigue it has brought to visitors to Millennium Park since the summer of 2004. Crown Fountain pays homage to the digital age with an unexpected interplay of video sculpture, public art and community connection. A reflecting pool made of black granite lies between two glass brick towers, 50 feet high. On their inward facades, LEDs display giant images of Chicago faces, as water cascades down onto the granite or spouts through a nozzle onto children who frolic below.
POLK BROS. FOUNTAIN
The gateway to Navy Pier, especially at night time, is a sensory delight. The Polk Bros. Fountain, installed in 2016, is a legacy gift from the estate of the legendary Chicago retail family. The dramatic 12,500-sq-ft fountain has more than 250 programmable jets that mimic the movements of waves, schools of fish, flocks of birds and other gorgeous scenes, set against views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline.