DERRY — It once stood sturdy in downtown Derry, cooling the thirst of passing horses, dogs and even citizens.
Now an old cast iron fountain has a new look and life, thanks to one family with deep roots in town and local Rotarians who took on the labor of love to bring the structure back to its original state.
Derry Village Rotary Club members and other supporters brought the fountain back to life and plan to give it a special spot of honor this year.
This year also marks the 300th anniversary of the original Nutfield settlement, when a group of 16 Scots-Irish families came to the new world, led by the Rev. James MacGregor.
Resident Mark Brassard called the project “Operation MacGregor” and said restoring the historic water bubbler was not only a part of Derry’s past, but also a testament to the community as it moves forward.
The fountain dates back to when Derry’s streets were dust and dirt, when horses pulled carriages and wagons, and both animals and humans often stopped for a cool drink.
The structure stands about as tall as a man, weighs anywhere from 1,800 up to 2,000 pounds. It’s styled with a large 4-foot diameter bowl that horses would use for drinking, plus a smaller trough for dogs at the bottom and a side area for people hoping to catch a cool bit of water.
The Derry fountain was forged by the Concord Foundry and cost $112.60 around the turn of the 20th century.
Historical photos dating back to around 1904 show the fountain standing in front of what was then the Derry Depot train station, now Sabatino’s restaurant.
It stood there for decades until Thanksgiving night in 1954 when a local apple orchard truck knocked the fountain down.
“The town didn’t see a need to reinstall it, so it was tossed in the dump,” Brassard.
The fountain eventually ended up being taken from the local trash heap and became a focal point in the yard of Richard and Pauline MacGregor on Bypass 28.
The fountain had a place of prominence, Brassard said, with flowers filling its bowl every spring and family photos being taken around its large spaces.
“For 60 years it was cared for by this family,” Brassard said.
Add in the fact that there is a connection to the MacGregor family and it’s a history tale that means a lot, he added.
Richard MacGregor died in 2014 and was an eighth generation descendant of that first settler who preached his first new world sermon in East Derry in April 1719. After his death, his widow Pauline said it was time to turn the fountain over to the town after deciding to sell her home.
Rotarians went to the MacGregor home, pulled the fountain from its ground base, secured it on the back of a truck and brought it to Simpson’s Painting on Rockingham Road where it was sandblasted and primed.
Rotarian Charlie Crompton said Pauline’s generosity saved the old fountain and its future.
“With new homeowners, it might have found its way back to the transfer station, or a melting pot, lost again,” he said.
Crompton said there are only about 15 of these patented H.W. Clapp/Concord Foundry fountains remaining in New England. Other New Hampshire towns with similar fountains include Pittsfield, Hopkinton, and Bennington. The company sold hundreds of the fountains all over New England.
He added that a spot in MacGregor Park has already been designated to be the fountain’s final resting place once restoration is complete.
Brassard said credit needs to be with the MacGregors.
“The MacGregors are Derry’s royal family,” Brassard said. “Some are still living here 300 years later. This community has benefited from the generosity of this family.”
Derry has many symbols dedicated to the family, including the name of Derry Public Library, stained glass panels inside the library showing the MacGregor coat of arms, and the namesake park next door. The Rev. MacGregor and other early settlers are buried in Forest Hill Cemetery in East Derry.
The fountain eventually was placed in its current location near Derry Public Library in MacGregor Park. A dedication ceremony was held in April as part of the kickoff Founders Weekend of Nutfield anniversary events. MacGregor family members and descendants were present for the fountain unveiling.