For historical insight on Henry Shaw’s personal philosophy on the landscape at Tower Grove Park, click here to read a transcribed handwritten manuscript by Shaw entitled: The Plan of the Park and Reasons for its Adoption, also known as “Henry Shaw Essay”. It is undated, but based on various references, can be dated to about 1872.
The fountain pond is situated west of the music stand, on the upland north of Main Drive. It is oblong in shape; on three sides, east, west and south, is bounded by grassy banks; on the north side, there is a rockery, and an artistic arrangement of stone blocks selected from the remains of the old Lindell Hotel. These large stones are laid together to resemble a ruined facade, including some broken columns, the whole having an irregular but graceful outline. There is a three-tiered fountain in the centre of the pond.
The pond was designed to accommodate model sailboats, but has become popular primarily for the picturesque "ruins" that line its northern edge. In 1867, shortly before Henry Shaw deeded the land that would become Tower Grove Park to the City of St. Louis, the Lindell Hotel burned to the ground. Although the hotel had been completed only four years earlier, Henry Shaw saw potential "ancient ruins" in the building's fire damaged blocks.
As he had done with the columns removed from the Old Courthouse during a remodeling, Henry Shaw had a great pile of limestone blocks from the hotel transported to Tower Grove Park. The courthouse columns had become part of the Magnolia Entrance to the Park; the Lindell Hotel's limestone would be restacked following a plan drawn up by Henry Shaw and horticulturist James Gurney and transformed into the "ancient" and picturesque "ruins" that had become popular park adornments with the rise of the European "grand tour" and the poets' romantic meditations on the triumph of nature over the creations of humankind: Byron's "Isles of Greece" ( Don Juan ), Keats' "On Seeing the Elgin Marbles", or Shelley's "Ozymandias."
The recycling of stonework from downtown buildings continued even after Shaw's death in 1889. The stone balustrade along the pond's south shore was added in 1899 -- until that date it had edged the roof of another Barnett-designed structure, the U.S. Custom House and Post Office built at Third and Olive in 1852. Although Barnett's Custom House and Post Office building was not demolished until 1939, its postal functions had been taken over in 1884 by a new building five blocks to its west -- today's "Old Post Office." When the pond was enlarged in 1916, the balustrade was again rebuilt, this time on a new more stable concrete base.
The Sailboat Pond, more frequently now called the Fountain Pond, and the artificial ruins behind it, are on the north side of the Main Drive between The Piper Palm House and the Music Stand. The pond is an elongated oval with a rectangular extension toward the drive. It centers on a cast iron fountain of three tiers erected on a small island. The south side of the pond is outlined by a stone balustrade that was moved here in 1899 from the roof of the Custom House, a building then located at Third and Olive downtown and designed by George I. Barnett in 1852 under the supervision of Ammi Burnham Young.
The gorgeous Water Lilies and picturesque "Ruins" of Tower Grove Park's Ponds and the charming bridges over its "brook" have been attracting folks from near and far for more than a century.
According to the Victorian chronicler of Tower Grove Park, whether "at motion or at rest, water must always be an important element of beauty in park scenes." Unfortunately, water could only be brought into Henry Shaw's Tower Grove Park at "considerable trouble and expense." Shaw's sailboat pond with its fountain bubbling amidst "ruins," the gorgeous lily ponds, and the picturesque iron bridges across the man-made brook were, all agreed, well worth the additional effort!
Although he insisted "water must always be an important element of beauty in park scenes," MacAdam did not mention the water as a necessity for the growth of the water lilies for which Tower Grove Park has become so well-known. In fact, water lilies find no place in his lengthy discussion of the plantings introduced into the park by Henry Shaw and "Mr. James Gurney, an experienced Florist and arbor culturists who received his early training at Kew Gardens, London."
It was not Tower Grove Park's founder Shaw, but its chief gardener Gurney who made water lilies an important feature of the park. In 1872, the pavilion near today's lily ponds was built for $600 following plans drawn up by Eugene Greenleaf. By the time of his own death in 1920, Gurney was well known as a specialist in the cultivation of water lily seedlings and hybrids; he played a role in the introduction of the giant Amazon water lily into cultivation, and propagated other varieties of tropical water lilies.
After his death and the succession of his son James Gurney, Jr. as park superintendent, James Gurney, Sr.'s fondness for water lilies was commemorated in a series of stained glass panels added to the staircase hall of the Superintendent's house in which he had lived from 1895 until his death in 1920.