F.W. Darlington Electric Fountains

The research into the work of F.W. Darlington and the numerous "Electric Fountains" around the country continues to find evidence that the Electric Fountain Company of America in Philadelphia was responsible for many of the fountains that went by that name with remote control of the water features and lighting.

Examination of photographs of a fountain, whether credited to Darlington or not, often show some of the same signature water features which exist in the Denver fountain. An Electric Fountain in the Mexico City suburb of Chapultapec seen by Mayor Robert Speer is said to have inspired the purchase of one for Denver City Park. This list of confirmed Darlington fountains is sure to grow as more information is found in archives and libraries.

Prospect Park – Grand Army Plaza; Brooklyn, New York – 1897-1915 [Confirmed Darlington fountain]

Darlington’s 1897 fountain for Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn's Prospect Park was much larger than the 1908 Electric Fountain at Denver City Park. It featured 19 examples of the “wheatsheaf” water effect (the Denver fountain has 11) with arc lights in the vault under the fountain pool illuminating the hourglass-shaped streams. Darlington applied for a patent on his color-changing mechanism for fountain lighting in 1897. A prior fountain on this site used gas lights to illuminate the water.


"Vaux's fountain did not age well; by the 1890s it leaked and was frequently dry. In its place, rose Fredric W. Darlington's Electric Fountain, a multi-colored electrically lit fountain that was greeted with some wonder in an era when electricity was still in its infancy. Park Commissioner Frank Squire had originally planned to replace Vaux's Plaza Fountain with an unobtrusive, single-spout affair that would not obstruct a view of the arch from Flatbush and Vanderbilt avenue approaches. However, Darlington's detailed plans, presented in May, 1897, and quick responses to questions from Brooklyn Bridge chief engineer C.C. Martin swayed the Park Commission to invest in the electric fountain.

"Darlington's design called for a flow rate of 100,000 gallons an hour but, using a circular pump, it would make few demands on the capacity of the nearby Mount Prospect Reservoir. It featured nineteen 6,000 candlepower electric arc lights, wired in three series circuits, with each circuit controlled by its own dimming rheostat. Each arc lamp could be remotely focused in narrow and intense, or soft and wide beams. These were housed beneath the water's surface in an underground chamber and projected through a thick glass ceiling into the water jets above. The arc lamps were laid out in concentric rings around a central light and spout. The hydraulics consisted of over 2,000 separate jets, also below the surface. Many were situated in rings around the electric lamps and had various kinds of nozzles for different effects.

"A lighting conductor could impart distinct colors to each of the nineteen lamps through rotating wheels of colored gels. A second hydraulic conductor managed the fountain's spouts. Both operated from an underground control room located just off the south end of the basin, near the arch. The operators could view their efforts through three closely spaced windows set in the basin wall just above the water's surface. The fountain was situated in a 120 foot diameter basin. Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted placed the fountain at the intersection of two broad paths, arranged as a Georgian cross, with grassy, treeless plots situated at the quadrants. Attendance on opening night, 1897-08-07 was around 100,000 people, and regularly scheduled performances on Wednesdays and Saturdays generally drew 20,000 to 30,000 spectators. In an era when most homes were still gaslit, the shifting colors and ever-changing spouts of the electric fountain invoked a sense of awe and wonder that is hard to grasp today."


"The new fountain had a center jet encircled by a ring of subsidiaries, and the height and shape of the spurting water could be regulated with precision. Moreover, the aquatic display was illuminated, and illuminated in color. There had been no colored lights at the recent Columbian Exposition at Chicago, nor was a world's fair to employ polychrome lighting until the Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo in 1901, so that a water display with rainbow illumination was a spectacular innovation at that time. The electrical engineer for the Brooklyn fountain was F.W. Darlington of Philadelphia, and the cost was $24,500.The fountain on Grand Army Plaza was undermined by and became a casualty to the construction of the IRT subway in 1915."

Crystal Palace; London, England – 1899 [Confirmed Darlington fountain]


"The fountains, which had been out of use for several months, were brought back into operation, with new machinery installed. All the illumination was now from below the water. The height of the water jets was now 200 feet, 50 feet higher than the old fountains. The work was done by Mr. F.W. Darlington of Philadelphia."

Willow Grove Park; Willow Grove, Pennsylvania - 1904 (and possibly earlier) [Confirmed Darlington fountain]

This is the earliest Darlington lake-based fountain for which photographs and post cards have been found. The structure in the lake was much more elaborate than the Denver fountain vault but it had several water features in common with the one in Denver. Early information indicates that there was a tunnel from shore out to the fountain vault under the lake bed. The Electric Fountain in Denver did not have a tunnel. The Willow Grove Electric Fountain no longer exists.

This page on a site about the Willow Grove Park has four spectacular colored post cards showing the basket weave (hourglass) and fan effects at night:


From the 1904 booklet:
"This fountain, costing over $100,000, is charming by day, but simply grand at night. The daylight effects are those of sparkling crystal and of the rainbow; at night every jet and spray is brilliant with color from concealed electric lamps, and the water-forms change as frequently as the colors do. Every jet and spray is illuminated by colored electric lights, making the water appear as if tinted with rainbow tints, while clouds of iridescent mist float from the dancing, splashing streams."

From the 1907 booklet:
"Yet the supreme surprise, the vision paramount in fascination kept by WGP in reserve for the appreciative pleasure pilgrim, is undoubtedly the Electric Fountain whose displays take place at certain hours during the afternoon and evening, and may be witnessed from the walks about the Lake, and also by those seated in the music pavilion. The daylight effects are beautiful, but it is at night it excels when it bursts forth in dazzling and enchanting beauty."

Garfield Park; Indianapolis, Indiana – 1916 [Confirmed Darlington fountain]


"In 1915 the new greenhouses and Conservatory were built. The dedication of the Sunken Garden took place October 29, 1916. In 1916, FW Darlington of Chicago was hired to design and build the fountains at the east end of the Sunken Garden. The fountains were the first in the country to be equipped with the mechanics that allowed the changing of the spray and displayed lights, according to the season and holiday. For Memorial Day, the fountain’s lights were alight with red, white, and blue, and on other days, gold and white. Today, the fountains are still a popular attraction for visitors."

[Atlantic fountains built new controls for this fountain, which was rebuilt by The Fountain People. Six photos.]

"Garfield Park and Conservatory features three large fountains on its beautiful park grounds. This was one of the first electrically operable fountains by F.W. Darlington in 1916. The fountains were once animated by a person in the pump vault many decades ago! Over the years the project has seen many phases of fountain restoration."

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