Mohican blessing highlights rededication of Kilbon Memorial Fountain in Lee

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LEE — JoAnn Schedler took a feather from a World War II veteran from the Mohican Nation and waved it over a mixture of tobacco and sage smoldering in a large seashell she held in her hand. She wafted the smoke around the newly restored Kilbon Memorial Fountain.

Schedler, joined by her granddaughter, Sioux Collom, and Bonney Hurtley, was conducting a Mohican blessing of the marble landmark that proudly features the carved face of Stockbridge Indian Chief Konkapot.

The three women of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of the Mohican Nation living in northeastern Wisconsin had traveled 1,100 miles to help the town rededicate a historically significant fountain that was crumbling and in dire need of repair.

For Schedler and Collom, Saturday morning's ceremony was especially poignant, as they are descendants of Konkapot.

"Hopefully, people will see the fountain and get to know its past," Schedler told an Eagle reporter.

The estimated 200 people in attendance received a booklet that included a summary of the fountain's history.

Thanks to hundreds of individuals, businesses and interested organizations donating nearly $46,000, the Fountain Restoration Committee had the fountain restored, repaired and reset on a new foundation in the park that fronts First Congregational Church. The committee is under the auspices of Berkshire Gateway Preservation in Lee, which collaborated with the Lee Chamber of Commerce, Lee Historical Society, Lee Historical Commission and town officials.

Lee/Lenox Chief Administrative Officer Christopher Ketchen told the crowd that the rededication was more about honoring a community willing to preserve its past for the future.

"This is more than a fountain; the fountain is a monument to community good. It's a testament to the enduring community spirit," Ketchen said.

State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli was impressed with how townspeople backed the restoration of a landmark that time almost forgot.

"I've never experienced as much pride as I've experienced in Lee," he said.

The fundraising and restoration proved a bigger challenge than first anticipated by the restoration committee.

In midsummer last year, the fragile fountain was moved from the church park to Tower Stone in Richmond, where Verne Tower spent countless hours restoring the Daniel Chester French-designed marble landmark crafted in 1899 by Lee native sculptor Dante Baccolini. French is the American sculptor best known for the statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.

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For Tower, the restoration will be a memorable one.

"It's been a real honor and real pleasure and quite an undertaking. It took eight to nine months," he said.

Tower's meticulous work found that the internal plumbing was poorly repaired about 70 years ago for the once-operational fountain, accelerating the natural decay from the New England weather.

Garth Story, chairman of the Fountain Restoration Committee and president of Berkshire Gateway Preservation, recalled the fountain's erratic water flow before the restoration.

"The water kind of dribbled out of Chief Konkapot's mouth," he said.

The fountain's worse-than-expected condition forced the committee to up its fundraising goal from $35,000 to $40,000. Story says the nearly $46,000 collected leaves some money for annual maintenance.

According to the restoration committee, the internally damaged marble was replaced with durable fill and less-corrosive plumbing fixtures. Restoration of the exterior damage involved shoring up the carved likeness of Konkapot and matching of marble patterns on cracked areas.

The front of the fountain is a horse trough with the carved face of Konkapot, the leader of the Stockbridge Indians, a Mohican tribe from New York that settled in the area. The tribe sold land to English settlers in 1772. Five years later, it was incorporated as a town.

A bubbler in the shape of a dolphin on the backside provided drinking water for people; any overflow from the bubbler collected in basins for thirsty dogs. Tower re-created the dog basins, and built a new base, sealing the cracks, mitigating the erosion and getting water to again flow through the bubbler.

After the ceremony, a number of people cupped their hands under the dolphin to get a drink.

Story has said that, to reduce future erosion, the bubbler will have limited use and the fountain will be covered during the winter months.

The fountain was dedicated in 1899, in memory of Amelia Jeannette Kilbon. She spearheaded the project two years earlier, on behalf of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. She died before the project was completed.

The Temperance Movement of the late 1800s advocated abstinence from alcohol and saw providing free fresh water as furthering its cause, local historians said. In addition, the fountains served horses and dogs in an effort to promote animal welfare.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.


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