After an extensive restoration, Bridgeport this week rededicated a memorial fountain honoring sewing machine manufacturer and civic leader Nathaniel Wheeler.
The 1912 fountain at the intersection of Park Avenue, Fairfield Avenue and John Street, was rededicated April 20 after a long repair project that has restored the long-dormant flow of water to the fountain.
The fountain features a mermaid carrying an infant and a light fixture as large fish splash around her flippers. A dedication on the fountain’s base reads, “The Nathaniel Wheeler Memorial, erected 1912,” below the years of Wheeler’s life (1820-1893).
Smaller fountains at the corners of the triangular traffic island surrounding the fountain site feature a mermaid, several seals and three seahorses.
During the restoration, the traffic island was ringed with granite bollards, which should help protect the fountain from automobiles.
The fountain was created by sculptor Gutzon Borglum, who is perhaps better known for his work at Mount Rushmore.
Wheeler, a native of Watertown, was the son of carriage manufacturer. Wheeler shifted into manufacturing machinery and began sewing machine production in 1851. By 1856, the Wheeler & Wilson Manufacturing Co. had moved to Bridgeport, where it would eventually grow into one of the world’s leading producers of sewing machines.
Wheeler would later serve in the Connecticut legislature and as a director of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad as well as Peoples’ Bank. He was also involved in many social and civic causes in Bridgeport.
Wheeler was a descendent of Moses Wheeler, a resident of colonial Stratford who operated a ferry across the Housatonic River between Stratford and Milford. The interstate 95 bridge across the Housatonic bears Moses Wheeler’s name.
The Wheeler Memorial Fountain was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.
Wheeler & Wilson superintendent William H. Perry is honored with the memorial arch at the Park Avenue entrance to Bridgeport’s Seaside Park.