Is an 1880 fountain buried in Franklin Park?

In this black-and-white photograph dated 1893, a young girl stands near a cavernous drinking fountain in Franklin Park, leaves and branches spilling around it as she reaches for a cup of water. Courtesy of the National Park Service, Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site

The “fountain in blasted rock,” as it’s labeled in the image, is massive. If it were still around today, it would be impossible to miss.

But a recent revelation by an employee with the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, which helps maintain the park, has sparked questions about whether the fountain is perhaps still there, buried beneath the earth but for a small lip of stone.

Kate Sosin Oeser, a spokeswoman for the conservancy, has long been intrigued by what happened to the fountain, an echo of the past in the park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.

She had come across the photograph of the little girl more than once in her research.

“I have this crazy love of and fascination with Franklin Park. I’m what they call an ‘Olmstedian’ — someone who loves Olmsted,” she said. “So I comb through really old photos and the history of the park, and I have always wondered about this fountain.”

Oeser has even gone out in search of remnants of the fountain and asked those familiar with the park’s history about its exact location.

“People have offered different versions and have said it’s overgrown, or it’s still there,” she said. “I had looked, and looked, and looked and I couldn’t find it anywhere.”

Then, in February, while out for a walk in Franklin Park with a group of friends, she happened upon the tip of a stone arch, rising just above the ground. At first, it didn’t fully click. She took a photograph with her phone and went about her business.

A few weeks later, while scanning pictures on Instagram, she found a post by a user named @doccb. The photo showed the same stone structure poking from the earth. Oeser examined the details of the Instagram shot, and that’s when she began to notice the similarities to the stone in the old photo.

Could it be the fountain, a relic of time consumed by the park?

“It ignited this desire to want to solve the mystery,” she said. “I started e-mailing everyone I knew who knew a lot about the park.”

So far, all she has been able to dig up is a bit of speculation. Even those with their hands deep in the history of the park are somewhat flabbergasted, she said, and could not definitively confirm whether the outcropping is part of the old fountain.

Mark Swartz, a National Park Service park ranger at the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site in Brookline, has been giving tours of Franklin Park for more than a decade.

He said he has never come across the stone arch in the ground on his regular routes. But after comparing the two photos, he said it could be the fountain.

“It may not be. I don’t know,” he said. “It certainly does seem like a similar shape.”

Margaret Dyson, director of historic parks in the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, identified the fountain in the older image as a communal drinking fountain, which were common during that time period.

The old photo shows cups hanging from long strings tied to the top of the fountain. Dyson said people would use the cups to scoop up water and then drink it.

In the early 1900s, she said, communities changed over to the “bubbler” system and moved away from the “shared cup” model because of public health concerns.

It’s likely that the Franklin Park fountain was shuttered for that reason and filled in over time.

“I love these stories,” she said. “They are the fun part. It’s looking at things in the parks and saying, ‘What is that, and why?’ ”

Richard Heath, who founded the Franklin Park Coalition in the 1970s, said the stone is indeed a fragment of a fountain that was once situated in the Playstead, the first section of Franklin Park that opened in 1889.

In an e-mail to the Globe, Heath said that in 1986, work crews cleared away a mess of knotweed that was covering the arch, exposing the fan-shaped rock that’s visible today.

He said he’s sure there’s more “fascinating stonework” belonging to the fountain still underground.

If that’s the case, Oeser, of the conservancy, said it could be interesting to find out.

“Is it intact down there?” she said. “We don’t know.”

By Steve Annear

The article appeared in the June 1, 2017 edition of the Boston Globe and is used with permission. © 2017 Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC

Steve Annear can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.