Village plans to improve Main Street visibility after recent fountain accident

The Village of Geneseo is planning on continuing reconstruction efforts for the Main Street fountain following a car accident on Sunday Nov. 27, the second car accident that has occurred at the fountain this year. The operator of the vehicle, 62-year-old Paul Stevenson, was driving down Main Street and crashed into the fountain’s east side. The left side wheels knocked the fountain off its base slightly before the vehicle veered off and spun straight into Village Cafe at around 9:01 p.m., according to first responders.

There were no pedestrians at the time of the incident and the driver remained unharmed, according to Village Chief of Police Eric Osganian.

“As far as an accident goes, it was the best case scenario, nobody got hurt,” Osganian said. He said that the driver received a citation for a failure to obey traffic control advice and that any compensation to help restore the fountain would come from the driver’s insurance company.

The crash itself did little to hinder the restoration process and it is expected to be fully repaired by the summer of 2017, according to Mayor Richard Hatheway.

“It sustained very little damage. It was moved off its foundation a few inches, but didn’t really sustain any further damage and it really wouldn’t have made much difference anyway since the whole basing was going to be replaced,” Hatheway said.

The fountain already suffered damages as a result of a milk truck accident last semester. A major focus for the project currently includes prevention methods to avoid traffic issues with the fountain in the future.

“If you look at pictures of the fountain in the 1940s, in the 1950s, it was covered in street signs. It was a traffic hazard, has been a traffic hazard in the past,” professor and Chair of the History Department Joseph Cope said.

“Even before the one this summer, you would see some nicks and small scrapes along the fountain. It periodically does get hit,” Osganian said. “I mean, it’s a large granite item in the middle of the road.”

The Department of Public Works and the Village are looking into installing light fixtures around the fountain or in the streets to signal incoming drivers of its presence.

“They did put some blue reflective markers around the fountain. Most of us—we all know it’s there, so we try to avoid it,” Osganian said. “But you’re not paying attention, if you don’t move off that lane you will run right into it. So they are looking at that to try to prevent another accident.”

The fountain is considered a historical landmark and was commissioned in 1887 by Herbert and William Austin Wadsworth as a tribute to their mother, according to Cope.

The Wadsworth brothers commissioned Richard Morris Hunt—the architect responsible for a variety of famous pieces, including the base of the Statue of Liberty and the Façade at the Metropolitan Museum of Art—to design the fountain. Hunt’s design started with the bear holding the lantern and the fountain continued developing afterward.

Various changes have been made for the preservation of the fountain after it was initially constructed. In 2009, the Association of the Preservation of Geneseo worked to redesign the lamp held by the bear on the fountain, according to Hatheway.

Funds for the restoration and for this particular change came through a fundraising drive in 2010.

“A good portion of that funding came from SUNY Geneseo alumni,” Hatheway said. “They were exceptionally supportive of fixing the fountain and there was enough money left over at the end of that project that they ended up getting a 3D image—or digital image—of the fountain, which has turned out to be very important, as the fountain is now being rebuilt.”

The digital 3D picture of the fountain is being made into a Styrofoam model and will help to facilitate the current restoration process.

The fountain has an important historical significance in the village and community, according to Cope.

“The fountain has been a really important landmark in the village for a very long time ... if you go through historical photographs of the Village of Geneseo, you go through memoirs of people who have lived in the village—the fountain is really kind of an anchor to the community,” Cope said.  “It’s a really important symbol in a lot of respects of the village and the entire community of Geneseo, so it seems like a really important component of our local identity in a lot of ways."

News Editor Annie Renaud contributed reporting to this article.