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White Memorial Fountain

On a late summer afternoon in 1892, the friends and neighbors of Dr. Roderick White came together in the village of Weatogue to remember him. The Simsbury Band played, speeches were made and prayers offered as a magnificent Victorian fountain overflowing with pure spring water was dedicated in his honor. Dr. White had with his horse and rig traveled about Simsbury ministering to the sick and dying, educating his patients about disease and its prevention, discussing their diets and daily habits for almost fifty years. He often treated those suffering from water borne illnesses from contaminated wells and streams. Now fresh drinking water would be his tribute.

Roderick White was born on October 24, 1809 in Enfield, Connecticut to Roderick White of Springfield, Massachusetts and Delight Bement. He received his medical training at Yale. He practiced in Manchester, Connecticut and East Granville, Massachusetts before coming to Simsbury about 1842 to work with Dr. Shurtleff whose practice he eventually took over. He married Elizabeth Hungerford of Wolcottville (Torrington) in 1844 who, at age 27, joined him in Simsbury where they lived for the rest of their lives. Mrs. White appears to have become an invalid and spent a large portion her life housebound. Dr. White died December 2, 1887 and was followed two years later by his wife.

It was Mrs. White’s will that carried the provision for the fountain. “I desire to leave a memorial of my late husband in the community where he so long lived and practiced his profession, and for that purpose I have determined that it would be suitable and proper to erect in the village of Weatogue a memorial fountain supplied with running water.” She appointed her brothers Edward and Frank Hungerford and a neighbor, the Rev. Charles Pitman Croft, as trustees to erect a fountain.

The question was where to put such a fountain and how to get water to it. When Dr. White came to town in 1842, the Farmington Canal was coming to the end of its useful life and much of its route was used to create railway beds which today have become part of the rails-to-trails program. The highway, as Hopmeadow Street was known, passed through Weatogue along Winslow Place where the remnants of the old road still exists. Another road ran south of the Fountain towards Bushy Hill. Here sat the district school on a piece of land given to the town by the Pettibone family. The proximity to the school meant that students could have safe drinking water from the fountain.

It was agreed to site the fountain on a portion of the school plot and on an abandoned right of way where pipes could be laid to bring water from D. Stuart Dodge’s spring a mile away. Another feature was a watering source for animals which was fed from an outlet at the base of a street lamp and provided water for horses, dogs, birds and other animals much to the delight of the Connecticut Humane Society and a neighbor who made it a condition of granting a right of way. The horse trough portion remains today.

The fountain was created from granite quarried in Monson, Massachusetts by the W.N. Flynt Granite Company. The ground basin has rock work called rip-rap. Above it is mounted a large basin with lion heads that serve as the discharge for the water. Three circular basins above that allow the water to spill over from the central discharge pipe at the very top of the column. At the base of the fountain was placed a portrait medallion of Dr. and Mrs. White, a bas-relief of the Healing Serpent (symbol for medical profession) and an inscription honoring Dr. White. It reads: “In Memory of Roderick A. White, M.D., who died Dec. 2, 1887. The beloved Physician of this town for nearly fifty years. Erected by his wife, Elizabeth Hungerford White. Defunctus adhunc ministrant”

At the dedication in September 1892 speakers included: The Reverends D. Stuart Dodge, E. C. Hoag, Charles Pitman Croft, Edward Hungerford, Horace Winslow and Charles E. Stowe ; Doctors Gurdon W. Russell, Horace Fuller, Henry P. Stearns, Melancthon Storrs and Frank Hungerford, Esq., W. N. Flynt and Rodney Dennis of the Connecticut Humane Society. Music was provided by the Simsbury Band and the audience sang America.

Many of the remarks dwelt on the changes in medicine during Dr. White’s lifetime. “Dr. White was a connecting link between the past and the present. He lived in a great transition period, both in theory and the practice of Medicine. During his professional life the most important medical discoveries were made; he was educated in a time when general bloodletting was in common use…Anaesthesia, the greatest gift of man to man, was discovered…and surgery was robbed of its terrors…,” said Dr. Horace Fuller.

When Dr. White died his patients and friends mourned not only his passing but the changes in their own lives. The town physician had lived in Weatogue as long as anyone cared to remember but Dr. White’s replacement had chosen to live further north in Simsbury. Soon a bridge would be constructed at Drake Hill allowing travelers to bypass Weatogue altogether as they crossed the Farmington River. The monument they placed near his home in Weatogue reflected their need to honor not only Dr. White but their status as the core community in Simsbury. Did providing water for man and beast along with a substantial monument encourage more travelers to use the Weatogue crossing?

When the White Memorial Fountain was dedicated Weatogue was the heart of Simsbury with a district schoolhouse, post office and many Revolutionary-era homes. The Hartford Road (Route 185 today) took travelers across the Farmington River and up the Talcott Mountain to the bustling city of Hartford. The Weatogue crossing became a popular means to reach Hartford from northwest Connecticut after tolls were established on the Albany Turnpike (Route 44) in the 1700s.

The location of the fountain as it sits today on the west side of Hopmeadow Street near the junction of Route 185 seems an odd afterthought but at the time it was constructed the area it sits on was a close to a town square as Simsbury would ever have. Over the years Hopmeadow Street changed its course leading to an intersection crowded with vehicles and their drivers anxious to make the light as they rush to work. The 19th century residents of Weatogue would recognize little about it today.

 

 

 

 

 
Simsbury Historical Society
800 Hopmeadow Street
Simsbury, CT 06070
860-658-2500
info@simsburyhistory.org