By Steve Frangos
For the past 105 years the Neptune Fountain of Goshen, IN has stood on the shaded East Lawn of the Elkhart County Courthouse. The Fountain was nothing less than a thank-you gift from James Polezoes, a local Greek immigrant.
The Fountain is yet another of the many monuments raised by Greeks in the United States. As with most such things, local Goshen residents and their immediate neighbors know about this fountain than most Greek-Americans do. James Polezoes is at the heart of this tale and so we must learn something about him, and his motivations, if we are ever to understand why such a monument exists to this day in rural Indiana.
James Polezoes was born in Sparta on July 4, 1887, immigrating to the United States in 1903. Polezoes joined his brother Peter in Ohio and shined shoes for nickels to earn his living. Ambitious young Polezoes soon sought to learn the confectionery trade, frugally saving his meager earnings. On May 10, 1910, Polezoes arrived in Goshen, where he decided to open a confectionery in a vacated Main Street saloon, right across the street from the Courthouse.
Somewhat off the beaten path by 1913, Goshen was one of the cities linked by the newly finished Lincoln Highway, then a major Indiana thoroughfare. To be sure, the venture gambled all of Polezoes’ personal savings, some $800 plus $600 borrowed from his Peter. Nevertheless, tasty candy and fountain creations matched by working from dawn until midnight, seven days a week, soon earned Polezoes a brisk daily business.
By early 1912, Polezoes had saved $1,400 more than enough to launch another business, but that is not what the young Greek decided to do with his earnings. On a business trip to Chicago, Polezoes saw the Neptune statue. Unsure of himself, Polezoes “consulted a friend, publisher O. M. Kinnison. ‘Goshen has been good to me,’ Jim said hesitantly, ‘I’m grateful, I’d like to show it. Can I give a fountain? Would it be all right?’ Kinnison was at first surprised, then deeply touched. Jim’s simple sincerity was obvious. Moreover, Kinnison knew the shy young immigrant wasn’t rich, and $1,400 in 1912 was a lot of money (Culver Citizen (Culver IN) March 19, 1958).”
This conversation must have taken place in the first couple of months of 1912 because by early February news reports on the Fountain begin to appear. Among these reports we find the headline: “Polezoes Fountain,” (which is how many of the Goshen newspapers initially referred to the monument) and then “The exact location of the Polezoes ornamental fountain in court park will be determined later. Commissioner Showalter will represent the county on the committee. The county binds itself to keep the fountain in repair. The city binds itself to make the connections, furnish free water supply and place drainage (Goshen Democrat February 9, 1912).”
Under the headline of “Fine Public Fountain for Goshen” we find that Kinnison was able to navigate through local channels such that “the handsome $1,000 fountain donated to the city of Goshen by James Polezoes, a Greek, will be erected in April and by consent of the county commissioners will be built in court house park (Bristol Banner (Bristol IN) February 23, 1912).”
The original design for this Neptune statue was based on the work of nineteenth-century French sculptor Gabriel-Vital Dubray (1813-1892). Two casting companies in the United States produced versions of this statue. The one seen in Goshen was manufactured by the J.L. Mott Iron Works company and is made of zinc coated in bronze paint. When the water is running, water spouts from the mouths and nostrils of the sea creatures at Neptune’s feet. A bronze plaque on the fountain reads: “ Donated to the city of Goshen, IN, by J. Polezoes—A.D. 1912.”
On August 20, 1912, an elaborate dedication ceremony marked the formal presentation of this new public monument. A detailed description of that event can be found in the August 27, 1912 edition of the Goshen Mid-Week News-Times (GMWNT) newspaper. There we learn that “the park about the fountain was decorated with colored lights and the Greek and American flags entwined graced the trees and fountain basin.” Then, at 7:30 PM, with an estimated audience of some 2,000 Goshen residents massed around the front steps of the court house, the Rogers’ Goshen Band began to play a number of songs.
At exactly 8 PM with the citizens gathered about the front steps of the court house the lights on the court house steps were all turned on. The band played the Star Spangled Banner and the Rev. E. D. Burnworth of the First Brethren Church pronounced the invocation. Next Anthony Deahl, then a prominent citizen who would later be a town banker and mayor, presented the Fountain to the Goshen’s citizens on Polezoes’ behalf. Mayor Samuel F. Spohn followed accepting the gift on behalf of the citizens. Mayor Spohn added that the entire dedication ceremony was in honor of Mr. Polezoes. The mayor, next, introduced Polezoes, who had written a simple statement but “when called to speak, Jim could only blink tear-filled eyes and stand mute, his throat choked (Culver Citizen March 19, 1958).” Deahl read it. “Mr. Polezoes stated that he appreciated the courtesies and patronage extended to him since his arrival in Goshen, and that he wished to present the fountain to the citizens of Goshen as a token of the appreciation he felt.”
The ceremony closed with the prophetic observations of Lou W. Vail, lawyer, banker and oft-time county official. Vail said “that money is worth just what it will get a man. That while some had brought automobiles and others sought other pleasures, Mr. Polezoes had invested $1,100 in a fountain and invited everybody to “take one on me.” He thought the act great, and that Mr. Polezoes had raised a monument to his thought and beneficence. Thousands will visit the fountain and will rest and live refreshed, inspire, uplifted. Thousands yet unborn will bless the name of Polezoes (GMWNT August 27, 1912).” The ceremonies ended with the band playing the national anthem of Greece as the crowd waved handkerchiefs in a salute.
For all the celebration it was a much harder job of maintaining the fountain than anyone first realized. Typical of all the later issues is the following letter. Addressed to the editor of the Goshen Democrat, under the headline, “Polezoes Fountain,” we read: “A few years ago Mr. James Polezoes donated to the city of Goshen a fountain which cost $1,000. The gift is the most substantial of the character ever made here. Today, for some reason that has not been explained, this fountain, located in court park, remains in a state that is a disgrace to Goshen city and Elkhart county. If there are no public funds available with which to bronze figure of Neptune, mend the leaks in the basin and provide flowers for the urns, doubtless people of the community will raise the required amount by individual subscription. Certainly in its present condition the expensive Polezoes fountain is an object of sad neglect. Transients in Goshen as well as most of the natives are wondering what it all means (May 16, 1916).”
As for Polezoes, he remained in Goshen and his various business enterprises are reported upon from time to time. One special event was Polezoes’ marriage to Bertha (Pota) (nee Grammas) (1898-1986), the couple had two daughters Helen (b. 1923) and Kostandina (Conie) (1926-2012).
James Polezoes passed away in 1982. Goshen remains a bustling rural town where local Mennonites and Amish farmers are still a part of daily life. The Neptune Fountain now serves as a unique unifying symbol of this community. This gift remains the most substantial ever made by any Goshen citizen.
Monuments all across the United States are dedicated to or have been raised by Greek-Americans. Why does the Greek-American community remain unaware of these historic signposts our ancestors were so proud to bequeath to the future?