This Was Then: The Horse Fountain

Not to be confused with the swell new human fountain.

The fountain at its original location, close to where La Choza Burritos is today, about 1918. - Courtesy of Chris Baer

That cast iron planter between the Green Room and the bank in Vineyard Haven was never intended for geraniums. Known by old-timers as the “horse fountain,” it’s a 19th century tribute to the establishment of running water in Vineyard Haven. Originally located at the intersection of Main and Beach streets, across from the Mansion House — about where La Choza is today — this was the drinking fountain that replaced the old town pump soon after Tashmoo spring water first percolated downtown through a mile of cast iron pipe in 1887.

In 1889 a group of residents expressed their concern that it might be unhealthy for people to be drinking from the same fountain as horses, so they raised funds and installed a second fountain near the center of town. That old, often overflowing horse fountain should be left to the horses, they announced, and thirsty humans were encouraged to use their healthy new fountain, which featured an iron ladle chained to the basin as a common drinking cup. But the second fountain didn’t last long: It was also used as a makeshift hitching post, and on a cold winter day in 1902, a startled steed snapped the brittle iron, destroying it.

The old horse fountain remained at its original location until the mid-20th century. In 1979 it was reinstalled next to the Martha’s Vineyard National Bank in a movement led by Bill Honey, the bank’s president. Although it no longer provides running water, the horse fountain remains there today.

Chris Baer teaches photography and graphic design at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. He’s been collecting vintage photographs for many years.