Today, Milledge Fountain is an elaborately tiled and gently babbling fountain greeting park goers in the northwest corner of Atlanta’s sprawling Grant Park. While the same was true when it was first erected in 1927, the ensuing years were none too kind to this aquatic facade. Its descent into disrepair and the grassroots efforts to return it to glory give a miniaturized urban history of Atlanta and speak to one neighborhood’s commitment to beautifying public space.
Atlanta’s Grant Park was born in 1883, bestowed as a gift upon the city by prominent engineer and businessman Lemuel P. Grant. His namesake neighborhood (also Grant Park) was populated by middle- and upper-class families across the late 19th century, many of whom built the now-historic Victorian homes surrounding the park still today. Milledge Fountain, then, was one of several civic projects undertaken to enhance this well-to-do neighborhood’s namesake park. Built in 1927, it’s likely the oldest fountain in the city—so old, in fact, it was first known as “Horse Drinking Fountain.”
With the rise of the automobile, however, many Grant Park residents ditched their horses and moved to the outer suburbs, leaving both neighborhood and park (and fountain) to first slowly, then rapidly decline once the six-lane I-20 highway bisected the neighborhood in the 1960s. While a nascent restoration movement began in the 1970s, Milledge Fountain went unattended until 2013.
By then, the fountain had not flowed for roughly 60 years. The tiles had separated from the wall, shrubs framing the facade spilled into every walkway, and the bronze fish from which water once emanated had corroded beyond recognition. The Grant Park neighborhood took action.
Urged in part by residents, a subcommittee of the Grant Park Neighborhood Association launched efforts to restore the fountain around 2013. While funds were raised and collaborations with Grant Park Conservancy cemented, Atlanta-based artist and sculptor Christine Mann scoured historic photos and salvaged fallen tiles. Over several years, the neighborhood won grants and solicited donations with Mann meticulously recreating a century-old assemblage of fish, pipes, and tiles.
In November, 2017, a ribbon-cutting ceremony reintroduced a rejuvenated Milledge Fountain to Grant Park. It flowed for the first time in decades, and continues to flow to this day (pink on Valentine’s Day, green on St. Patrick’s Day, to boot). The fountain now hosts a weekly Sunday farmer’s market, besides occasional “Moonlight on Milledge” nighttime neighborhood hangouts. It even won an award for “Historic Preservation” at the annual Atlanta Design Awards in the spring of 2022.
Know Before You Go
Grant Park is open 6 a.m until 11 p.m. daily. The fountain is just inside the Milledge Avenue/Cherokee Avenue entrance by the northwest corner of the park.