Frederick Law Olmsted | A Passion for Parks, National Geographic: Bethesda Fountain Centerpiece

A gondola drifts in the lake beyond “Angel of the Waters,” a fountain rising from Bethesda Terrace that was created by sculptor Emma Stebbins (1815-1882), the first woman to receive a commission for a major public work in New York City. Bethesda Fountain, as it is commonly called, stands twenty-six feet high and ninety-six feet in diameter, remaining one of the largest fountains in New York.

Designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux considered Bethesda Terrace to be the heart of Central Park. They envisioned a grand terrace overlooking the Lake.

Stebbins worked on the design of the statue in Rome from 1861 until its completion seven years later. Cast in Munich, it was dedicated in Central Park celebrating the 1842 opening of the Croton Aqueduct, which brought fresh water from Westchester County into New York City. Stebbins likened the healing powers of the biblical pool to that of the pure Croton water that cascades from the fountain. The lily in the angel’s hand represents purity, while the four figures below represent Peace, Health, Purity, and Temperance.

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