The Women’s Christian Temperance Union Fountain on the Arcata Plaza


The Arcata Plaza, previous home to the controversial McKinley statue, has another artifact that has often been overlooked. Those who have spent a good amount of time in the town square are surely familiar with the old stone drinking fountain on the western side of the park. But do you know why it was built? The city of Arcata is now discussing placing a plaque on the historic fountain to teach people about its interesting history.

Built in 1912 by Arcata stonemason James Davidson, the fountain is one of many Women’s Christian Temperance Union fountains across the country.  These drinking fountains were built to give men access to free, clean drinking water in an attempt to discourage them from entering saloons and drinking alcohol.

The idea to display the fountain’s history was brought forward by Arcata Mayor Brett Watson. Last month, he and Councilmember Paul Pitino decided to head out to the Plaza and give the fountain a thorough scrubbing. Watson said that while they were working he talked to some community members and learned that many people who have lived here their entire lives didn’t know anything about the fountain’s history.

“I think [the plaque] would be a good feature to add that tourists would enjoy,” Watson told the Outpost. “And it would remind people or educate people in the community about why the fountain is there.”

Local dog Opie drinks from the now functional fountain.

Watson had also been pushing to get the fountain back to working order, something that has been an issue on and off for years. Watson had discussed the fountain with city staff and, initially, he said, staff estimated the repair costs at around $9,000.

That was certainly a lot of money for the city to consider. However, it turned out that the defunct fountain could be fixed much more easily than expected. After that frightening cost estimate, city staff ended up repairing the drinking fountain for only about $100, Watson said.

Although the working fountain may not discourage people from going to the bars or getting schnockered, as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union intended 107 years ago, it does, once again, serve its purpose of providing Plaza goers access to free, clean water. With only one other drinking fountain on the Plaza, Watson felt that this was very important.

“We have a lot of events on the Plaza,” Watson told the Outpost. “Especially on nice days, it’s important to have access to water. The other [fountain] was not enough for thousands of people.”

The other, less interesting, drinking fountain in the center of the plaza

The Arcata City Council will discuss the possibility of adding a history plaque for the fountain during tonight’s meeting. The purpose of this discussion is to gauge the council’s interest and, if council wishes to move forward, to direct the Historic Landmarks Committee to draft the language for the sign. City staff would also need to come up with a plan for the sign’s placement. Arcata City Manager Karen Diemer told the Outpost that, because the fountain is a registered historic landmark, nothing can be mounted directly on it.

Diemer is also excited about the possibility of adding an informational sign for the fountain and encourages community members to contact the city or come to the meeting if they have stories about the fountain’s history that they’d like to share. 

“These fountains do have an interesting history, not only here, but throughout the nation,” Diemer said. “I think when people hear that, it garners some interest.”

The Arcata City Council meets tonight at 6 p.m at Arcata City Hall — 736 F Street.

You can view the full agenda here.