Like a fresh canvas awaiting the stroke of an artist’s brush, the lawn at Wright Circle will soon be the site of a new building project that will recapture the energy and beauty that once emanated from there.
For most of the last century, Wright Fountain stood as a campus icon. Now, nearly two years after structural concerns necessitated its removal, a new fountain is on its way.
For those whose recollections of their time at ECU are rife with memories of Wright Fountain, its omission on campus has made walks across the Mall less familiar.
“About a year ago, I had a chance to go back to campus,” said Kay Dry, class of '66. “It had been several years since I had made the trip to Greenville, and when I arrived on campus I didn't recognize very much from my college years. Finally, I spotted Umstead dorm, on around to Fleming dorm, and finally Cotten, my freshman dorm. I was so excited because I was back in my special territory, but ‘Wow! What happened? Where is the Wright Fountain?!’ It was like my heart had been jerked out of me. I knew this had happened, but to see the void was like I had lost a very important part of my past.”
For more than 70 years, Wright Fountain held a special place on campus, and a special place in the hearts of East Carolina students. But the years and the elements took their toll on the old brick and mortar structure, and by late 2006, problems underground had compromised the fountain’s foundation to the extent that it had to be torn down.
“The removal of the fountain was necessitated by failed underground utilities,” said William Bagnell, executive director of ECU facilities services. “The utilities failure was causing sink holes to occur around the fountain, as well as causing the fountain to settle to the point that it could no longer operate and maintain water levels.”
After the fountain’s structure was removed from the surface, the problems under Wright Circle were repaired. According to Bagnell, the work included storm sewer replacement and repair, sanitary sewer relocation, steam tunnel drainage, and a reworking of utility layout of the area. The work would ensure that if a new fountain were ever built to replace Wright Fountain, it would not succumb to its predecessor’s tragic fate.
For decades, Wright Fountain was a focal point of campus. Dedicated in 1932 in honor of Robert H. Wright, ECU’s first president, the fountain was built as part of ECU’s campus beautification project. The fountain—along with landscaping, walkways, and granite entryways—was the charge of Martin L. Wright, the chairman of the Campus Beautification Committee. An avid gardener and landscaper, as well as the director of the Department of Social Science at the college, Wright oversaw the transformation of public spaces on campus into an aesthetic blend of natural beauty and civil engineering.
M. L. Wright dutifully served in his role as chair of the Campus Beautification Committee for 15 years. In 1951, the fountain at Wright Circle was rededicated as Wright Fountain in honor of his extensive contributions to the university.
“The fountain was the heart of the campus,” said Dry. “It was the place that the students could always go to have private conversations, daydream, share laughs, watch the soap bubbles (no one knew where they came from when this happened, of course), snack together, meet new friends, and find their way when they got lost as a freshman. There was just something about the fountain that gave the campus a warm and inviting spirit.”
In May of this year, ECU officials announced plans for the construction of a new fountain. Named the Trustees Fountain at Wright Circle, it will share the same ground that once held Wright Fountain, and will surely once again become a popular location on Main Campus.