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Riverfront Fountain Restoration Brings Back Token To Palatka Veterans

Douglas Van Horn and his wife Victoria work on renovating one of the Riverfront Fountains basins. Photo courtesy of Alex Sharp.
Douglas Van Horn and his wife Victoria work on renovating one of the Riverfront Fountains basins. Photo courtesy of Alex Sharp.

The Riverfront fountains have been a piece of heritage for Palatka residents, but for the past few years their charm has rusted.

Suffering from vandalism and lack of maintenance, the fountains have only undergone minor fixes through the years. But, a Putnam County native has volunteered to bring the historical token back to life.

Douglas Van Horn’s $30,000 project has received equipment and other donations from suppliers he knows from his business, All About Pool Supplies, and the Sunrise Rotary Club, which donated $2,500.

The fountains will be dressed in a new river-rock finish, with cascading water colored by red, white and blue LED lights falling into the basins, which symbolizes its memorial to veterans.

“When I first went over there to lay eyes on it, the pump room was in complete disarray, everything was original from the ‘70s, it was all rusted and fallen apart and has been neglected for a long time,” the St. Augustine resident said. “So I knew right then it was going to be a pretty big undertaking.” 

With the help of his wife and father, the 40-year-old swimming pool renovator plans to complete his project in time for it to debut at the annual Christmas parade the day after Thanksgiving.

“I grew up in Palatka, and my parents used to take me to the fountains all the time when I was a kid,” said Van Horn. He said he used to love throwing pennies into them as a young boy.

When he saw a post on a Palatka Facebook group about the fountains' need for restoration, he said “it was a calling” and he knew he had to fix it. After receiving permission from the city manager and mayor, Van Horn began his project Nov. 9.

Many local residents have responded to a Facebook post about the project by Nolan Richard, who manages the social media group where Van Horn initially read about the fountains’ condition.

“That fountain is like a part of our life, a part of our heart of our community,” Richard said.
The retired Putnam deputy said he has seen a fantastic response from the community through Facebook and that many people are looking to donate to Van Horn’s project.

He said he goes to check on the fountains every night to make sure no one has tampered with the construction.

“It's just a good feeling you feel when you're around the fountains,” Richard said. “It seems like a little thing but it's not. They really hold a high esteem for that fountain because it represents so much of our small town.”

He said it’s special because many of the residents of the town of are veterans.

The memorial was established in 1977, after a Palatka veteran came back from the Vietnam War with the desire to honor his fallen comrades and all those who had paid the penalty for freedom.

“They just let it go down over the years, and I was very sad to see that,” said founder Bill Bailey. He said as soon as he found out Van Horn was reviving the fountains, he was thrilled.

“I was just tickled, just tickled,” he said.

After serving in the Vietnam War, Bailey came back to Palatka, the city where he was born and raised. He had lost two classmates and found out there were 26 local men who lost their lives in the war as well.

Bailey said he met with the editor at a Palatka newspaper he was working at, along with several other people who helped raise money to build a memorial for the soldiers.

With a three-pool design that Bailey helped select, the memorial now commemorates the veterans of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

At the 1977 dedication ceremony, Bailey raised an American flag, which he first raised at a hill where he and his 26 comrades won a battle against 150 North Vietnamese soldiers, he said. Bailey said he plans to raise that same flag again at the restored fountains’ ceremony on November 27 at the parade.

“It's just something to keep memory of the fact that people had dedicated to keep us free, keep us safe and not let them forget that we did lose some people,” Bailey said.

Van Horn said he hopes the revival will invite more people to enjoy the riverfront activities like he used to with his parents when he was a child. He said he’s also doing it to show how thankful he is to the local veterans and to keep them in remembrance for their service.

Kelsey is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.