Left: Liberty Fountain, vintage color postcard. Right: Liberty Fountain components

Father Paul Dobberstein’s Liberty Fountain, John Brown Park, Humboldt, IA

Liberty Fountain was created by Father Paul Dobberstein, famed builder of the Grotto of the Redemption, in West Bend, IA, about 30 miles north of Humboldt. The Grotto of the Redemption is the primary example of Father Paul Dobberstein’s outstanding and original structures of elaborately embellished concrete, built to express his religious devotion and his patriotic and civic pride. In addition to the Grotto of the Redemption, Dobberstein built several smaller Catholic devotional grottos and civic structures in the Midwest. Liberty Fountain is thought to be his second work––and the only fountain––outside of West Bend.

Liberty Fountain was built as a memorial to Fay Hessian, a young girl from Humboldt, who died of tuberculosis in 1912. Her father commissioned Father Dobberstein to build the fountain, with a statue of Fay Hessian, as a memorial to his beloved daughter. Dobberstein built the fountain in segments in West Bend and assembled it on site. Liberty Fountain was dedicated on September 22, 1918. Dobberstein created the words LIBERTY, VICTORY, HUMANITY, and JUSTICE on the rim, suggesting that the Fountain is both a memorial to Fay Hessian and a commemoration of American patriotic values, which were especially strong in 1918, at the end of World War I.

The Liberty Fountain is an outstanding example of Father Paul Dobberstein’s original vision for creating structures of elaborately embellished concrete, his superior craftsmanship, and his zeal for creating devotional and civic structures in Northwestern Iowa and throughout the upper Midwest. Dobberstein’s fountain at the Grotto of the Redemption, created in front of St. Peter and Paul’s Church, was also created as a war memorial, underscoring the concept of a fountain, with flowing water (comparable to an eternal flame), as a war memorial with animate features. As a civic fountain it is unique in Father Dobberstein’s oeuvre. It has strong significance within the scope of his work and in the history of civic monuments in Humboldt and the region. As a combined memorial for an individual from the community and bold expression of collective patriotic values, it exemplifies a way honoring both individual and society in a democratic context.

By 2009 the fountain was in an advanced state of deterioration. Years of chlorinated water resulted in failed mortar throughout. Leaching and efflorescence had caused many of the heavily embellished panels to become detached. The fountain was inoperable.

The Humboldt Parks Department commissioned Preservation Services, Inc. to undertake a two-year restoration project. The project entailed removing most of the panels, applying successive poultices to all embellished surfaces to remove dead mortar, extensive interior structural stabilization, removing badly-patched pool surfaces and pouring new basins, replacing electrical and plumbing systems, and extensive surface restoration.

Liberty Fountain was restored to its original splendor and functionality as the centerpiece of John Brown Park in 2011. The project was supported by the Rotary Club, the Humboldt Area Arts Council, Friends of the Park, the Humboldt Historic Preservation Commission, and individual donors.

Please click here to see a selection of conservation project images.

Liberty Fountain condition before restoration, 2009

Liberty Fountain Operational 2011

Father Paul Dobberstein’s Liberty Fountain