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Last Fountain Standing

May 15, 2010

bennington rotary club
The Bennington Rotary Club on Friday unveiled the newly restored fountain that has been brought back to public use after almost a half century.

Lisa Byer, executive director of Catamount Access Television and president of the Bennington Rotary Club, said the fountain dated back to 1874.

"This fountain first graced the lawn of the Bennington Graded School 136 years ago," she said. "Today will be the first time that it has been publicly enjoyed since 1954 when the school was demolished."

The 8-foot tall fountain is made of cast-iron and has a diameter of 3-foot, 4-inches at its base.

For about 50 years, the fountain has belonged to the family of Milton Surdam, owner and operator of LM Realty on Main Street.

Surdam called Friday's public opening of the fountain part of a "wonderful day."

"I just wish (my parents) could be here to see this," he said. "I often heard my father say he had more chances to sell this fountain and he used to say, 'I can always get money, I can never get another fountain like that.' So just to me, it speaks so well of my mom and dad, especially my dad, he would never give this fountain up to anybody."

Surdam was at the event on Friday with his wife, Patricia; sister, Marilyn Weglarz, of Bennington; and his son and daughter-in-law, Matt and Missy.

The fountain dates back to a time in Bennington's history when they were plentiful around the town but it's believed to be last of the former public fountains in existence. It was scheduled to be torn down when the Bennington Graded School on Park Street was being demolished to make room for the Bennington Elementary School on the same site. Surdam's father, also named Milton Surdam, asked the construction workers if he could keep the fountain, which they planned to tear down. When they turned it over to him, he installed it in his backyard. But after he died in 1996 the fountain was put into storage.

About two years ago, the Bennington Select Board voted to accept the fountain with the understanding that the Bennington Rotary Club would restore and install the fountain. Byer said the idea for a fountain restoration project had come from Rotary member Robert Matteson, who has earned a statewide reputation for continuing his running career even as he nears his 94th birthday. On Friday, Lodie Colvin, Bennington Select Board chairwoman, accepted the fountain on behalf of the town. "We are so blessed in this community to have this kind of event even take place so it is a heartfelt thank you from the town of Bennington and I promise, we will take good care of this beautiful fountain," she said.

Jerry Albert, who served as the chairman for the Rotary Club's Fountain Committee, pointed out that the fountain, which he called an "object of history preserved for generations to come," was older than the Eiffel Tower and the Bennington Battle Monument.

"The fountain will today be living again. It will be doing what it was designed to do, that is providing imagination and delight for the young and a source of reminiscence for the old," he said. Albert said he took pride in the fact that all of the contractors who worked on the fountain restoration were based in Bennington. Although the fountain was opened on Friday, in part to be on display for the Mayfest event that will take place today in Bennington's downtown, the Memorial Park project around the fountain is still going on.

Byer said the Rotary Club was working to raise money and find volunteer labor for adding park benches; a stone wall; plantings and landscaping; lighting and a memorial display to go with the donated bench in the park that is dedicated to those who died in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Donations for the project can be sent to Town Manager Stuart Hurd at the Bennington town offices and marked as contributions to the "Fountain Committee."

Compliments of: The Rutland Herald

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