Commonwealth Journal

October 5, 2013

Our new Fountain Square: Change can be beautiful

by Chris Harris
Commonwealth Journal

If time is a journey, then the toll we pay to pass through it is change.
We see it in the wrinkles in our skin that weren’t there yesterday. We see it in the shifts in values and ideas we undergo as a society, each of which seems to come so naturally to the next generation and so painfully to those prior. We hear it in music that sounds different than that which tunes our memories, in the gadgets with which we play, in the very ways we use to communicate with one another.
Perhaps most concretely, we see the price of change in our community. In the physical buildings that go up and come down, perhaps even within a single lifetime. In the places we shop in and gather. In even the very hearts of our towns.
Friday’s dedication of the new Fountain Square in the center of downtown Somerset is nothing less than a symbol of this momentous tide of change that washes over us every year, every day of our lives. It stands in testimony to the transformation our community experiences on time’s toll road, and sends a message: Change can be as lovely as it is scary.
I will admit, I was resistant in many ways to this change. All the time I spent growing up in Somerset, the square as it was — the fountain as it had formerly flowed — was a mainstay. A source of consistency and comfort.
The streams of water sprang skyward perhaps more meagerly than they do now, but that was just their way. Sen. John Sherman Cooper stood proudly at the front entrance, looking west down Mt. Vernon Street. The simple brick circle housing the fountain was flanked on either side by a quaint stone picnic table. I can remember grabbing McDonald’s food and meeting friends at those tables under the cover of night in my younger days. The image of that square was painted into the very fabric of my youth.
And it hurts to rip out those threads and sew in something new. I eyed the work on the square suspiciously, skeptical of how it would come out. Ask Tiffany Bourne, she whose vision gave birth to the square’s makeover. She heard me. I wanted to know where those tables had gone. Where are today’s teenagers supposed to eat their fast food with friends late at night like I had done?
Even the distinguished Mr. Cooper was in the wrong end of the square. It was almost like something out of “Gone With the Wind” — the quintessential Southern gentleman, feeling quite literally out of place, staring wistfully toward the south in memory of something beautiful that had once been but now was swept up in the immutable maelstrom of time.
Time, however, changes minds as well as the physical. The more I got used to the way the square looked now, the more I saw it for what it is: the perfect incarnation of community evolution.
After all, it certainly isn’t the first change for the square’s appearance. Far from it. What was a park in the 19th century gained a fountain in 1908; in 1963, Sen. Cooper himself helped usher in the era of the Fountain Square to which I was familiar.
Each generation has had its version of the downtown Fountain Square. I had mine; those to come after me will have this one. And then, someday, they too will have to move over and accept another likely change to benefit those who are not yet even a twinkle in one’s eye.
We’ve seen a lot of change here over the years — a lot of which I’ve felt was actually needed. After all, it’s hard to be resistant to change when it produces a positive effect: new jobs, new opportunities, new liberties and choices. Some of these changes have been very difficult for others, older generations who were used to a certain way of doing things, born of deeply-held convictions. 
This is the way of time. This is how we change as a community, how we shuffle down that road that some may call “progress” and some may curse, but we never stop and look back. The community that does suffers the fate of Lot’s wife and turns hard and brittle like a pillar of salt.
The Fountain Square that was welcomed Friday by a massive turnout of townspeople is not just a pretty structure but emblematic of those who came to celebrate it. It is us; it is the Somerset of today and tomorrow. It represents all the steps we’ve taken as a citizenry to this point, each brick in the wall like another advancement into the present, and will stand that way until it is time to move on and let our grandchildren have their turn. They will look back at us as they claim their own Somerset. 
The Fountain Square shows us that even though change can feel like a steep price to pay for living on, it can also be a beautiful thing. Let that always be on our minds when we look upon it.