Last week I took a road trip up to Oregon with my sister along the Redwood Highway. I haven’t made that drive up the coast in 2 years so I was feeling really giddy about driving through the coastal giants and being able to spend a day in my college town of Arcata in Humboldt County.
One of my favorite places to spend the day in Arcata is the town plaza. It’s always filled with people either enjoying the afternoon at the farmer’s market, the annual Oyster Festival, the monthly art walk or with people just laying out on the grass in true Humboldt fashion.
There are a few distinct features on or along the plaza: the statue of President McKinley sculpted by Haig Patigian, two awkwardly placed palm trees, the row of bars frequented by HSU students and locals and a water fountain. I love finding hidden treasures or “secrets” and a town as old as Arcata is likely to have a few. It turns out that the water fountain happens to be a keeper of one.
The water fountain was gifted to the city of Arcata in 1912 from the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) so that people who were on the plaza and were thirsty, wouldn’t feel like they needed to go into a saloon for a cup of water which may lead them to stay for a few alcoholic beverages and would instead have a drink from the water fountain. I’m not sure if that ever kept people away from having a drink, but the fountain served another purpose as well. The WCTU had several missions or goals, and one was to keep prohibition active within the community.
On top of the water fountain, there is a steel pipe, that is wide enough to hold a dime and that is what it did. A phone call back then cost about a dime so everyday, the WCTU would make sure that there was a dime there so if there was ever a time where a woman felt uncomfortable and needed to call a taxi, she would know to check the top of the fountain and be able to call a taxi cab.
I didn’t know about the water fountain secret while I was living in Arcata even though I had walked by it hundreds of times, so when I was visiting last week and taking a walk on the plaza I made sure to check it out. When I got to the fountain, there in fact were two dimes placed on top of the water fountain! Of course a cab ride is now a cell phone call away, but it’s nice to see that someone is keeping the historical novelty of the water fountain’s little secret alive!
If you ever find yourself driving up the Redwood highway, take a stop in Arcata and enjoy the day there and have a drink from the water fountain!
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