Portland horse trough memorializes early animal rights activist

I’ve been making note over the weeks about a series of talks Portland is hosting on the pieces in its public art collection. Click here, here, here and here, for past such notes.

I’m a sucker for these types of things, because I really like history, and we pass by some of these pieces every day without knowing the background. Like, for instance, why does Portland need a horse trough in its downtown?

The Pullen Fountain (photo courtesy of the city of Portland)

That’s what the Sept. 7 talk, part of the series titled “Art In Our Front Yard,” will be about. Led by Portland Public Art Committee member Tony Muench, scheduled to coincide for the city’s First Friday Art Walk (as always), attendees can learn where that horse watering hole near the federal courthouse came from.

The talk begins at 5:30 p.m. at the site of the artwork.

Here’s a little teaser background as provided during an event announcement by the city of Portland:

The Stanley Pullen Fountain was installed in 1910 as a horse trough and fountain on what was then the busy thoroughfare of Federal Street. The fountain was designed by George Burnham (1843-1903) of Portland and executed by the New Hampshire Granite Company. Named in honor of a local lawyer, politician and onetime editor of the Portland Daily Press, Stanley Thomas Pullen (1843-1910) was one of the founders of the Portland Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals which was organized in May 1872. Pullen was instrumental in the formation of the Maine Society for the Protection of Animals which merged with the local group in 1891 and he is widely considered one of the state’s first animal rights pioneers.

Located on Federal Street behind the Central Fire Station, the Pullen Fountain has served as a horse watering trough for more than a century and remains in use during the warmer months when horse drawn tour carriages amble through the Old Port. The classically designed granite fountain is ornamented with six dolphins and during its heyday was referred to as the bubble by local children.

Two years ago, the Portland Public Art Committee led a restoration effort, which included an enhanced seating area, the refurbishment of the granite base as well as repairs to the plumbing so that all water elements of the fountain will work. The fountain’s location, at the edge of the Federal Street sidewalk, protrudes into the street to allow for easy access for horses.  However, this location also leaves the fountain vulnerable to vehicle traffic and winter snow clearing operations.  In recent years the fountain had to be barricaded for protection during the winter.  The $35,000 improvement effort ultimately created a more welcoming and open space to enjoy the fountain with bollards at the exterior to prevent possible damage.

When Thomas M. Pierce, Trustee for the Margaret E. Burnham Charitable Trust, learned of the planned improvements, he provided a $7,500 contribution from the Margaret E. Burnham Charitable Trust, daughter of George Burnham, for the effort.  The contribution from the Trust provided the necessary resources to complete the project.

Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.