Friday, January 6, 2012

One more round

What is it with roundabouts, that this topic ends up in my posts so often?  Earlier this week I mentioned the weekly "Hometown Quiz" in the newspaper that proposed Lincoln's first roundabout was "near 31st and Pine Lake Road."  Pshaw.  The one the author had in mind is only 10 or 12 years old.  I noted that another roundabout, at 16th and Centerpark Road had been around for at least 40 years, and that there were probably others in Lincoln's past.

The comments thread took off, with several readers pointing out even older roundabouts, such as this one in Pioneers Park, and these two in the Woodsshire neighborhood. Two readers, Dave and Eric, recalled that a fountain once stood in the middle of 11th and J Street at the turn of the century.  Sometime later in the automobile age it was retired to Antelope Park where it still resides (although no longer as a fountain) on the grounds of the Children's Zoo.  I think we can safely say that the intersection of 11th and J Street was Lincoln's first roundabout, as he fountain would have caused the intersection to function as such, and no instructions were needed.


Anonymous said...

That's really a great old picture.

David said...

That's the fountain I was thinking of! It was in place by 1907 when this picture appeared in "Views of Lincoln." It was a gift of D.E. Thompson, the U.S. Ambassador to Brazil at the time. He was appointed ambassador in 1902, so the fountain was probably placed between 1902 and 1906. Jim McKee will know.

Why did DE give the fountain? Born in Michigan, he started working in Nebraska as a laborer for the Burlington Railroad in 1872, at the age of 18. By 1881 he was named superintendent of the railroad. He resigned in 1890 and by 1902 was president of the Lincoln Daily Star and an insurance company. He ran for US Senate around the turn of the century and was derided as 'the candidate from Burlington." (from The Free Pass Bribery System, George Berge, 1905.)

Theodore Roosevelt appointed him Ambassador to Brazil in 1902 and then Ambassodor to Mexico in 1906. Thompson must have made good use of his connections there; in 1910, while still Ambassador, he bought control of the Pan-American Railroad, the sole rail line from the US to Latin America, for $10 million. Then he resigned his Ambassadorship and eventually settled with his fourth wife in a mansion in Del Mar, California, from whence he administered his railroad(s?) and the timber lands in Washington state. He married his fifth wife in Del Mar in 1929. He was 75; she was 38. To quote the Director: "You can't make this stuff up."

(At least I hope not; this Thompson history is from Carlton Smith's 2003 true crime story, Blood Will Tell, about murders in a family related to Thompson's fifth wife.)

Anyway... before 1940, the Thompson fountain had been removed to Antelope Park, as noted in Seeing Lincoln, a booklet produced about 1940 by the Nebraska State Journal.

"One of these objects is the fountain given to the city by the late E. Thompson thirty or so years ago. It was placed in the center of 11th street a few blocks south of O. As Lincoln's herd of automobiles grew to thundering proportions city officials realized that the fountain, very suitable in the days when ladies nodded to each other across it from phaetons and victorias moving on either side, must be transplanted. After a number of accidents, some of them truly tragic, the fountain was taken to the park. Neptune, on one side, had been permanently crippled and the water nymph on the other was doubtless aged in spirit."

Those must have been some accidents, if Neptune and a water nymph had been damaged; it looks like the figures stand several feet inside the outer stone wall of the fountain.

I didn't know any of this before tonight. Amazing what Google can do.....