This time in history 100 years ago, materials were en route to Fort Myers for the construction of fountain that Dr. Marshall O. Terry had agreed to erect at Five Points, a broad intersection where Cleveland Avenue, Anderson Avenue (now Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard), McGregor Boulevard, Main and Carson streets all met. It was to be a memorial to Dr. Terry’s wife, Tootie, who played a pivotal role in having Riverside Road converted from a sloppy mud cattle trail into the palm-lined paved thoroughfare we know today as McGregor Boulevard.
The Fort Myers Press reported in its July 10, 1913 edition that “nearly all the material for the McGregor memorial fountain is in the ground and ready to be set in place. Workmen who have been sent here by the designers of this beautiful granite shaft and fountain have placed the heavier pieces in position for erection, which work will be undertaken in the next few days.”
Dr. Terry and the workers were intent on completing the installation by the first anniversary of Tootie McGregor Terry’s death on August 17, 1913. And they succeeded in this effort, for there appeared in the Press a brief note indicating that “the Terry memorial fountain was draped by a beautiful bouquet of ferns and roses all day Sunday, it being the first anniversary of Mrs. T. McGregor Terry’s” death.
According to Fort Myers resident and historian Jim Butler, the fountain served both as a turnabout in the Five Point intersection and a water trough for horses, which in 1913, represented the most common means of transportation for the folks living in the fledgling town of Fort Myers. But by 1952, the car had replaced horses and the fountain had become something of a anachronism in the increasingly busy intersection.
“One day a fellow by the name of Ted Camp smashed his car into that fountain,” recalls Frank Pavese. “Sonny Cook had an insurance agency and he put a sign on the fountain that said, ‘Committee to remove fountain. Ted Camp.’ Ted took down the sign as soon as he heard about it, but that put the idea in folks’ minds to move the fountain from Five Points.”
That opportunity came when it was time to construct the crossover to the new Caloosahatchee Bridge. The fountain was disassembled and the 24-ton granite base and palm tree were moved down McGregor to the Fort Myers Country Club. “I saw the bronze snakes on the porch of Commissioner Hudson’s house,” reports Berne Davis, referring to he five venomous snakes that were attached to the mock ground at the base of the palm tree and which originally served as the fountain’s water spouts. Two were water moccasins (also known as cottonmouths), two were eastern diamondback rattlesnakes and the fifth was a coral snake.
It’s unclear how many of the snakes were on Commissioner Hudson’s porch or where they went from there, but when the Fort Myers Beautification Advisory Board hired Fort Myers Don Wilkins in 1983 to reassemble the fountain, he only came across three. Wilkins speculates that the other two may have been stolen. “You can see marks on the granite from a tire iron or pry bar where the [missing] snakes were,” says Wilkins.
Operating from that premise, Wilkins decided not to risk placing the three original snakes back on the fountain. Instead, he cast fiberglas replicas using the originals as models. According to a recent conservation study commissioned by Fort Myers’ Public Art Committee, “an additional new composite pipe/snake was added to the exterior south side to mask the plumbing at the base of the fountain where water is drawn up from the reflecting pool.”
After completing the reassembly, Wilkins placed the three original bronze snakes in storage at the Southwest Florida Museum of History, where they were forgotten until PAC member Bill Taylor discovered them a few weeks ago while investigating the work that needs to be done to restore the Tootie McGregor Fountain to its original state during its upcoming centenary.
Taylor and the rest of the Public Art Committee would like to see the fountain placed back in its original state. That will mean removing the 40-foot reflection pool that Wilkins added in 1984 to circumscribe the fountain, and re-plumbing the water so that it once more flows into the trough at the base of the palm tree through the snakes’ mouths. But the cost of the work required to do this and fix and clean up the fountain could exceed $65,000, so a fundraising campaign is being planned. A commemoration of the fountain’s 100th anniversary is also under consideration. News of both will be forthcoming as decisions are made.
You can see the Tootie McGregor Fountain at the Fort Myers Country Club on McGregor Boulevard. It graces the north parking lot that serves the Edison Restaurant, where it has stood since 1984.