There are a number of reminders around town of the days when ole Dobbin was the fastest means of transportation. You’ve seen hitching posts, some with carved horse heads; stone blocks at curblines, placed there so you could step from the wagon to the block to the sidewalk without muddying boots; buildings with especially wide front doors that were once stables; shafts at rooflines, some still with hooks, used to hoist hay bales; carven horseheads above those wide doorways. There are still mounted cops, and Central Park South is ripe with the scent of dried manure. Equus never really left town.
Probably the largest reminder of horses around town are the troughs used to water them. Many were placed by the ASPCA and can be found in places as far apart as Gowanus, Brooklyn (Butler near Nevins); Flushing, Queens (Northern Blvd. and Linden Place) and Central Park (5th Avenue and 60th Street, near the entrance at the Pond).
There are large ones around, one being the Hooper Fountain at West 155th and Edgecombe Avenue; the Sullivan Fountain, in the recesses of Van Cortlandt Park; and there’s the Hamilton Fountain at Riverside Drive and West 76th, the one I’ll discuss today.
The Hamilton Fountain, Riverside Drive and West 76th Street, a marble basin with an eagle on top of it, a coat or arms and decorative, Beaux Arts carvings, was built by Robert Ray Hamilton, a real estate broker and sportsman, who paid for its construction some time in the 1890s; the fountain was completed in 1906 by the architects Warren and Wetmore, who would go on to build the second Grand Central Terminal, completed in 1913. The large basin, it is thought, was made so that it would be convenient for the horses who pulled the many carriages and coaches that filled the streets in this era just before the advent of the automobile. Riverside Drive was built as a leisurely drive in the country, and its twists and turns still give it a somewhat suburban character.