Nestled in a forested grove on the south side of Interstate 90 are three brightly painted, folk art water fountains. The site is called Elmer’s Fountain in honor of Elmer Almquist, the fountains’ designer and builder. Almquist was a local miner, welder, and former Allied Silver Lead mining company president.
The three vertical water fountains were constructed from old steel pipes and discarded metal parts salvaged from mining operations. The fountains’ water supply comes from the nearby Gold Lake where snow runoff from high above the fountains is funneled through a flume and dam system before being pushed into a 4-inch pipe creating sufficient pressure to feed the fountains year-round. Channeling the water through a horizontal mine tunnel prevents it from freezing in cold weather. In the winter, spray and mist from the fountains create ice formations around the pipes and basins.
The two large fountains are made from two tall, upright pipes that spill water into catch basins below. The smallest of the three fountains was intended as a drinking fountain and handwashing basin for passing drivers. “Arnold‘s Fountain” is written by hand into the cement base. Other roadside art creations decorate the site, including a mining car labeled “Gold Creek Mines” in red block letters. The lettering on the nearby “Elmer’s Fountain” sign is composed of chainsaw links. A tiny yellow birdhouse is a reminder of Almquist’s love for wild birds. Down a short path is a small, log building the size and shape of a doghouse. The fountains and other metal pieces are all painted school bus yellow.
The fountain site was initially named Arnold’s Fountain after the owner of the 600-acre property. Almquist was an acquaintance of Arnold and maintained the property for him after the Gold Creek Mine and Mill ceased operations. Shortly before he died, Arnold sold the property to Almquist for $20,000. When Almquist passed away in 1986, his widow changed the name of the folk art attraction to “Elmer’s Fountain.”
The Almquist family still maintains the property. They remove brush blocking the view of the fountains from the interstate and occasionally sandblast and repaint the fountains and folk art. Although lacking modern comfort facilities, Elmer’s Fountain is still an enchanting rest stop for those traveling through the Silver Valley mining district of northern Idaho.
Know Before You Go
Elmer's Fountain can only be reached from the eastbound lanes of I-90 in Idaho. It is a pull-off rather than an exit and is unmarked.