The Julius Joseph Fountain became the centerpiece of downtown Shelbyville in 1923.
In 2022, the very same fountain will have a modern operational system but will present a very similar design to its original version.
As the massive downtown Shelbyville redevelopment project was being discussed, the presentation of the fountain and the historic Bears of Blue River statue were prevalent in every conversation.
“The centerpiece of the fountain and the Balser Statue were never discussed as far as removing,” said Tom Davis of Genesis Property Development, the locally-based company overseeing the downtown project. “Now we discussed how we presented them, what the fountain would look like and how much should we modernize it versus how much we should keep the intent.
“It was always to try and make it look like it was original, or as close to the original as we can and keep as much of the original fountain as we could. That was always the top priority.”
Grover Museum photo: The Julius Joseph Fountain became operational in downtown Shelbyville in 1923. The fountain is currently being rebuilt as part of a downtown redevelopment project to reflect its original look, including the eight light poles running along each side of the fountain.
Representatives of Genesis and Ratio Architects met with Alex Krach, director of the Grover Museum in Shelbyville, to get a sense of the original design.
The museum has a photo of the original fountain that sat within a small island inside the public circle. Four street lights ran along each side of the island.
The 2022 version brings back the wider pool area and the four street lights along each side, but the island is much larger now.
The three flag poles will be relocated from the south end of the island to the north end while the Bears of Blue River statue will flip to the south end and be turned inward to face the fountain.
“The pool is a little bit different (from the most recent incarnation) as far as the size,” said Davis. “It is maybe more of a look to mirror what the road is going to look like. It’s a little bit different but they really tried to stick with the concept of what you’ve seen in the older pictures with the light poles.”
The foundations are already in place for the eight light poles and Davis expects the foundations for the flag poles and statue to be poured once the base of the fountain is complete.
German-immigrant Julius Joseph moved to Shelbyville in 1877 and opened a men’s clothing store at the site of the current Liberty Tax Service, 28 Public Square.
Joseph eventually transitioned into the furniture business and found success.
Upon his death in 1921, he left a $5,000 gift to the city to build a fountain.
Grover Museum photo: George Honig, shown here, was tasked with creating the Joseph Fountain. The three youth that sit atop the fountain are a tribute to Joseph's love of youth sports and games.
The city turned to Evansville’s George Honig to create the fountain.
Honig’s best known creation is the Lincoln Pioneer Village in Rockport, Indiana. He also created sculptures on display in Denver, Colorado, the Evansville Coliseum Stadium, and the St. John’s Memorial in Joliet, Illinois. He also assisted on the George Washington statue in New York City.
Honig tapped into Joseph’s philanthropical nature with regard to youth and sports.
The original fountain was topped by three small children depicting their preparation for games or sports.
“The children represent outdoor life, as well as ‘the spirit of play that is inherent in every child,’” according to a prepared document from the Grover Museum.
Six plaques representing children’s faces were attached to the structure. Each was meant to represent a season as well as the mid-seasons when planting and harvesting took place.
There also was a plaque commemorating Julius Joseph.
The Joseph Fountain was shut down and taken apart in 1951 after falling into disrepair.
“It was becoming an eyesore,” said Krach. “It was removed rather than repaired.”
The parts of the fountain were taken to the city garage where they stayed for the better part of three decades.
Grover Museum photo: The Joseph Fountain was returned to downtown Shelbyville in 1980 after being removed in 1951.
Mayor Dan Theobald inherited his role in the midst of a downtown facelift. Talk centered around sprucing up the downtown area.
“I always remembered it as a kid growing up,” said Theobald of the fountain. “They were re-doing downtown, I inherited it from the previous administration, and we were looking at other things to bring downtown.”
Finding the fountain parts proved to be easy.
“Everything was in pretty good shape,” recalled Theobald. “Things needed to be cleaned up quite a bit but structurally it was all intact.”
Over a three-week span, Theobald oversaw the reinstallation of the Joseph Fountain in downtown Shelbyville. The new base was not as wide, giving it a more squat look than its original inception.
“It went well. Everything really fell into place,” said Theobald.
The Bears of Blue River statue also was added to the downtown area during this renovation phase.
Bigger, better fountain
The base of the fountain currently being finished is 24 feet wide and almost 40 feet long.
The top part of the fountain is currently in North Carolina being professionally cleaned to determine if it is in need of repair.
“We brought in a forensic expert (from Florida) to look at it and see if we could restore it,” said Davis. “We realized it is granite and not limestone. That last renovation, they coated it for some reason. It probably had some lime and calcium build up on it.
“So we sent it out to have it restored by someone that can clean that off and see what we have. We haven’t made a final decision on what we are going to have to do to it because we have to get it cleaned up first. The goal is to bring it back. It’s 100 years old and we want to try and reuse it.”
The bronze statue of the three children is currently sitting safely in the Genesis Property Development offices.
“It’s in pretty good shape,” said Davis. “It needs to be topped off … the bronze does. Overall, it’s in really good shape.”
Once the fountain is running, it will maintain about 18 inches of water in the pool area. Davis does not expect the fountain to be operational in 2021.
“We are going to try and run it and test it then we will probably winterize it,” he said. “So I doubt we will run it very long since it will be late in the season. The goal for us is to get it all running and tested.”
The redevelopment plan is currently on track to be completed by November. Work will continue on the west two quadrants and the downtown island through August. The process will then flip to the east two quadrants.
Once completed, traffic flow will take a straighter path through the downtown area and the four quadrants will make the area more desirable for pedestrian traffic.
“Honestly, at the end of the day, people are going to be pretty happy with the end product,” said Davis.