Longwood turns eyesore into enlightenment

When Pierre S. du Pont unveiled the Main Fountain Garden in 1931 on the grounds of an estate he purchased so he could save its trees, the Longwood Gardens showpiece he had designed represented cutting-edge technology.

A new open-air exhibit on Longwood's Conservatory Terrace gives visitors insight into the revitalization project for the Main Fountain Garden.

A new open-air exhibit on Longwood's Conservatory Terrace gives visitors insight into the revitalization project for the Main Fountain Garden.

Eighty-three years later, time took its toll, and what was once an impressive engineering feat had become a maintenance headache. In September, Longwood announced that the five-acre Fountain Garden, which boasted both French and Italian architectural influences, would undergo a $90 million overhaul.

Construction began in October, and until recently, Longwood visitors couldn’t even see the fountain, as it was surrounded by a tall tarp. Now the shroud is down, and the Conservatory Terrace, which overlooks the work site, has been transformed into an educational open-air display.

Between now and the projected date for the fountain’s reopening – spring of 2017 – visitors, will be able to track the initiative, which is titled “New Heights: The Fountain Revitalization Project,” and learn about its history. The exhibit includes artifacts from the fountain, commentary on its background, and facts about its future.

A visitor peruses one of the display boards for the exhibit that focuses on the Main Fountain Garden revitalization.

A visitor peruses one of the display boards for the exhibit that focuses on the Main Fountain Garden revitalization.

For example, nearly 1,500 LED lights are being installed, and the new centerpiece will pump about 30,000 gallons of water per minute during the fountain show. A new pump will shoot water 175 feet into the air, eclipsing the old height by 45 feet.

The revitalization will include the complete restoration of the original limestone reliefs and fountains throughout the garden; the total replacement of the fountains’ electric and plumbing infrastructure with 21st-century systems; new water choreography, which will include jets that allow for more precise control of the water movement to create unique undulating, flexing, and spinning effects; and replacement of the fountain lighting system, which will also allow the water choreography to take on a new range of colors.

The project will also add new areas for guests to explore, including the elegant south wall, which has been closed to the public for the last 20 years, containing 20 wall-mounted fountains.

In addition, the Grotto, entered from passageways on either side of the loggia, will lead to a vaulted central hall, anchored by a circular water curtain wall and oculus that allows natural light to enter the space.

A trellis bridge will connect to the Fountain Terrace, allowing guests to look out over the surrounding gardens, and new seating areas will be featured, including a seat wall along the fountains as well as tables and chairs behind the trellis bridge. A renovated Pump House lobby will showcase the original pumps that powered the Main Fountain Garden from 1931 to 2014.

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