By Isabelle Khurshudyan
July 9, 2013
In the center of the cul-de-sac, at the end of Myrtle Court, is a gently flowing reminder to Wales Garden residents of times come and gone.
The surroundings have changed, but the Myrtle Court fountain keeps bubbling on. What began as a community focal point is now a historical landmark and treasured gem.
Under the churning water are a handful of pennies tossed in with hopes of wishes to come true. Its basin is rusted. There are cracks in its base.
Yet the fountain has a certain charm for its residents. In a community without a park or benches, the Myrtle Court fountain serves as a place to walk pets to and a gathering spot for residents who appreciate the history it holds.
“We may not notice it or take time to appreciate it on most days,” Myrtle Court resident John Wrisley said. “But I think we’d miss it if it were gone. There just seems to have been so many memories at that fountain.”
The first mention of the fountain is in the Nov. 6, 1921, Columbia Record. With the upcoming construction of Myrtle Court and 13 “modern brick bungalows” on it, the fountain would serve as the center of the new street, according to the article in the business news section. The court was supposed to be enclosed with an iron fence, and the development was “expected to make the place a high-class establishment.”
On a Columbia map from that time, Wales Garden was “Wales Gardens” and Enoree Street was on a different track of road than it is now. The University of South Carolina occupied only a few blocks. Much has changed in the neighborhood just south of Five Points, but the fountain has stayed mostly the same with only slight changes at the top and none to the base. In 2005, it was recognized as a historical landmark by the city, which now maintains it.
Wrisley, 84, raised his five children in one of the original brick bungalows on Myrtle Court. He says they would play in the fountain on hot summer afternoons, then he chuckles when describing the fountain in the winters. The neighborhood decided to keep the fountain running yearlong, and Wrisley says the water would freeze and make it look like a crystal figurine.
“It’s kind of a focal point because when people walk, they might stop and look at it,” Wrisley said. “People like to throw pennies in it, but then the city comes and cleans all of the pennies out.”
Sally Sansbury grew up in the Myrtle Court house she now lives in with her husband, Gene. She says she would run into the fountain naked when she was young, her mother chasing her out the door. Wrisley, a longtime local radio personality, remembers seeing someone take a mule down Myrtle Court to get a drink of water at the fountain. While neighborhood association President Andrew Marion says he doesn’t keep up with the fountain’s history the way Wrisley does, he did organize a block party around the fountain one year.
“It’s just sort of tucked away,” Marion said. “It’s an interesting artifact of days gone by. It’s just one of those things people like to walk by, and it’s sort of peaceful.”
USC geography professor Jerry Mitchell says the fountain functions as more of a community focal point than a “third place” – a gathering place that transcends socioeconomic classes – since younger Wales Garden residents say they don’t typically visit the fountain or go past it on morning runs as the older residents do.
Wrisley says the older neighbors that have lived in Wales Garden for years are wary when there’s an unfamiliar car or person on Myrtle Court, frequently calling each other to warn of an intruder. This closed-off feeling also makes the fountain uncharacteristic of a “third place” where people can congregate regardless of class or demographic, Mitchell says.
For residents on and around Myrtle Court, the fountain is just their place. As Wrisley stands next to it, he gestures to where one of his sons slipped on the edge and scraped a knee. He says his oldest daughter would always throw pennies in and make a wish.
“This fountain may be the only thing older than me on this street,” Wrisley says. “It sure has seen a lot.”