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Bartholdi Park and Fountain

Bartholdi Park and Fountain at night surrounded by plant life.
Overview 

Bartholdi Park serves as a home landscape demonstration garden and showcases innovative plant combinations in a variety of styles and design themes. The U.S. Botanic Garden Administration Building and the Bartholdi Fountain are located in the park.

Created in 1932 when the U.S. Botanic Garden was relocated, the park was renamed in 1985 after Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor of the historic "Fountain of Light and Water" located at its center. Bartholdi Park serves as a demonstration garden where visitors can learn the latest horticultural techniques for their home landscapes. The plantings are frequently updated to showcase new varieties, design trends and garden maintenance methods.

Bartholdi Park is also a refuge—an island of green where visitors, office workers and a surprising diversity of birds and pollinators can find respite from the stresses of the city. Secluded benches offer quiet shade in the summer and sheltered sunlight in the winter. In warm weather, the splash of the fountain rhythmically underscores the chirps of nesting birds and the drone of busy insects. In every season, the colors and textures of the plants and flowers are exhilarating.

History

The fountain in the park’s center was purchased in 1877 by the United States for $6,000. The iron fountain sculpted by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (later famous for the Statue of Liberty) previously stood at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia’s Fairmont Park. Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., who was redesigning the Capitol grounds at the time, learned that the fountain was available and recommended to Architect of the Capitol Edward Clark that it be bought and placed in a suitable location.

A new water basin was built opposite the U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory’s north front to receive the fountain. The fountain then moved to its present location in Bartholdi Park in 1932.

The "Fountain of Light and Water" was intended to be an allegorical representation of water and light, designed in three identical sections with classical forms and symbols. Turtle-like aquatic monsters and large shells surround the base. The pedestal holds three sea nymphs that seem to hold the large basin, which is actually supported by the central column. Above the basin, three youthful tritons playfully hold out seaweed. Water spills from a crown at the very top into the upper basin, while jets near the bottom shoot from the mouths of fish and turtles.

The cast-iron fountain, painted to look like bronze, weighs more than 15 tons and is 30 feet high. It was originally lit by 12 gas lamps, making the fountain one of the first nighttime attractions in Washington, D.C. Battery-powered electric igniters replaced these lamps in 1881. The lights surrounding the large basin were added in 1885, and the fountain was completely electrified in 1915.

From 2008 to 2011, the Architect of the Capitol performed a complete restoration of the fountain and its basin. The restoration was the fountain’s first complete deconstruction and restoration since 1927. The restoration was commissioned to address corrosion and excessive wear to the fountain and included repairing deteriorated metal, replacing interior mechanical and electrical components and replacing the lighting with new energy-efficient fixtures true to the style of the fountain’s original glass sconces. The fountain also received modern improvements such as energy efficient pumps and motors, a new water treatment and filtration system and a zinc coating to preserve the original cast-iron of the fountain that dates back to 1876.

Find out more about the Bartholdi Fountain at usbg.gov/bartholdi-fountain.

Location: 

Across Independence Avenue from the U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory

Last Updated: March 23, 2015