Take a look at any Kansas City iconic images and you’ll undoubtedly see one of the city’s majestic fountains. From grand cascading centerpieces situated prominently along the city’s major thoroughfares, to petite spouting statuary in quaint residential neighborhoods, they all represent what earned Kansas City the moniker, The City of Fountains.
Kansas City’s first fountains date back to the late 1800s when built to serve dogs, horses and birds. Then the city began erecting drinking fountains—each with their own distinctive architectural styles, features and themes—over sparkling springs to provide its citizens with safe drinking water. Later on, prominent real estate developer J.C. Nichols started integrating fountains and sculptures to both beautify his properties and provide Kansas City with a look of distinction.
Over the years, Kansas City’s love affair with fountains has continued to flourish. Today you’ll find hundreds of aquatic showpieces—large and small, artistically intricate and cleverly simple—gracing nearly every courtyard, parkland and tree-lined boulevard throughout the area.
Pat O'Neill, board member and spokesman for the City of Fountains Foundation, says that Kansas City’s unique and varied water sculptures and statuary do more than just give our neighborhoods and public spaces vitality and a special sense of place.
“They commemorate and celebrate the visions, deeds and generosity of generations of Kansas Citians who helped make so many of our collective wishes come true,” he says. “What pours forth is a clear historical perspective on where we are as a community, and how we got here.”
One of the city’s most recognizable landmarks is the J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain, situated near the iconic Country Club Plaza. Built in Paris in 1910, it once adorned the estate of a New York millionaire. In 1951, Nichols salvaged it from a scrap yard and brought it to Kansas City. The larger-than-life equestrian figures are said to represent four rivers: the Mississippi; the Seine, flowing from east-central France; the Rhine, originating in the southeastern Swiss Alps; and the Volga, Europe's longest river, located in Western Russia.
Another area favorite is the Meyer Circle Sea Horse Fountain, purchased in Venice, Italy in the early 1920's and named for the three mythological sea horses perched atop the stone pyramid. The Northland Fountain, flowing year-round, features an 80-foot circular base and center geyser that can propel water 35 feet high. This fountain is especially popular because the frigid winter temps transform it into a spectacular ice sculpture highlighted by a wide array of frozen shapes.
Every year on the second Tuesday in April the city celebrates Greater Kansas City Fountain Day, when all 48 publicly-operated fountains spring back to life. This day represents a great source of pride for the comfort, energy and urban vitality they provide.
According to O’Neill, “In our ever faster-paced world, it is important that simple things of beauty, like these fountains, that bring us moments of reflection, peace and serenity, stay constant in our lives.”