Anytime you spend the day at Saturday Market, you are in the company of Skidmore Fountain. This is not just a fountain. It’s not just a pool of water and cold spray. The Skidmore Fountain is the oldest piece of public art in downtown Portland, Oregon.
Located between Burnside and Ankeny and 1st and Naito Parkway, the Skidmore Fountain is one of the most easily recognizable fountains in a city full of them. It is named in honor of a Portland druggist, Stephen G. Skidmore, who died in 1883 and provided part of the financing for the fountain in his will. It was designed and built entirely with donated funds and was opened and dedicated in September of 1888.
The European style fountain was inspired by the Paris Expo in 1878, which Skidmore witnessed firsthand, and was designed with the idea that men and horses would be able to drink from it. Henry Weinhard, the famed Portland based brewmaster, offered to pump beer through the fountain at its dedication. The offer was declined, but now the area is only steps away from numerous breweries in the area. For years, cups hung from the fountain and the good men and women of Portland’s pioneer days would dip cups into it and have a refreshing swig of sweet, sweet Oregon water.
The Skidmore Fountain was a gathering place for locals then and the same holds true today. The locals just look a little different now. Gone are the men and women wearing cowboy hats and bulky dresses, gone are the buggies and horses, gone are the dirt roads. In their place, are brick pathways and asphalt roads leading into one of the finest metropolitan areas in the world.
The fountain now represents a gathering place of diverse cultures. During the Market season, all manner of hacky sack playing youngsters, musicians, poets, and canvassers gather here. Its convenient proximity to both the MAX blue line and downtown partly account for this. The fountain has also played host to numerous events including Plunderathon, SantaCon, Zombiewalk and numerous other functions. The Fountain is not just a fountain. It’s a meeting place. It’s a piece of history. It’s an icon. A destination.
If you’re going to start a trek through downtown Portland, there is no better starting point than the Skidmore Fountain. Its rich history, gorgeous design, and central location create a spot everyone in the Portland metropolitan area should know and love. The Skidmore Fountain is truly a slice of Portland and a true work of art.