Chicago River

A Windy City Wonder
Some fountains are great because they are aesthetically amazing; others are on the less-spectacular side but have great stories or commemorate worthy persons or events. Happily, still other fountains deliver the whole package: They are beautiful to behold and intricately woven into their local histories and cultures. One watershape in that special third category is the Nicholas J. Melas Centennial Fountain in Chicago. It celebrates the lifetime achievements of its namesake, who, for 30 years from 1962 on, was a commissioner on the board of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Chicago - a man doubtless worthy of the honor. But what's cooler in my book is the Centennial part of the fountain's nomenclature: It was commissioned on the Chicago River in 1989 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of a government agency whose single greatest achievement was, around 1900, reversing the flow of the Chicago River: They turned it around to keep it from flowing into and polluting the city's Lake Michigan water supply. Today this all sounds like ecological blasphemy, but before the water district accomplished this clever engineering feat, waterborne diseases including typhoid and cholera ravaged the population whenever the river ran high enough to flush its burden of pollution into the lake. As the historic summary linked below indicates, Chicago as we know it might not exist had this problem not been so thoughtfully addressed. I love the fountain's rich backstory - and the way it looks, too. Designed by Lohan Associates of Chicago (now Lohan Anderson), the stacked, stepped style perfectly befits the Modernism that is so much a part of downtown Chicago's look and appeal. The composition also includes a water cannon that shoots an eight-story-high arc of water across the river - a spectacular display that (Chicago's famous winds permitting!) shoots on the hour for ten-minute stretches. There's so much to see in Chicago - and so much of it has to do with water - that every watershaper should visit the city, probably more than once, in the course of a professional lifetime. Please do add this wonderful fountain to your itinerary the next time you go! For a bit of Chicago River history, click here. For a brief video that shows the fountain and water cannon in action, click here.