Q. Which Kenan donated the fountain on Market Street? Do you know what the faces on it represent?
A. That would be William Rand Kenan Jr. (1872-1965), the son of William Rand Kenan Sr. and Mary Hargrave Kenan.
Kenan had made a fortune in the chemical industry. As an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he had discovered a commercial process for synthesizing calcium carbide, a key step in creating the modern acetylene industry.
Kenan worked for United Carbide for many years, then joined the financier Henry Flagler as a consultant on his Florida railways. (Flagler married William Rand Kenan Jr.’s sister, Mary Lily Kenan, in 1901.)
In 1921, Kenan donated the fountain at Fifth Avenue and Market Street to the city of Wilmington to beautify the city and as a memorial to his parents.
The limestone fountain, pouring into a pool ornamented by turtles, fish, and faces representing winds, was designed by the New York architectural firm of Carrere & Hastings, designers of the New York Public Library.
According to historian Tony Wrenn, the fountain was sculpted and erected in New York. It was then dismantled, loaded onto some 30 rail cars and shipped to Wilmington to be reconstructed on site, according to an article in the Wilmington Dispatch.
According to Kenan’s biographer, Walter E. Campbell, Kenan considered the response to his gift underwhelming. City officials worried about the impact on traffic, and waited years to erect a memorial plaque on the site, which included stone benches and limestone walls. (In 1953, at the request of the State Highway Commission, a six-foot section of the fountain’s lower level was removed, allowing four lanes on Market Street on either side.
“I washed my hands of the situation,” Kenan said, and as Campbell noted in his biography, “Across Fortune’s Tracks,” he had very little to do with his hometown after that. He deliberately shifted his philanthropy to Chapel Hill (the Kenan bell tower and the endowed Kenan professorships), to Kenansville, where he was born (Kenan Memorial Auditorium) and to his adopted home of Lockport, N.Y., where he operated a model dairy farm.
Date posted: January 23, 2014
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