Remembering Ted Kelly: the Man Behind the Fountain

Ted and Mary Kelly at park dedication sm copy

Ted Kelly loved water. So much so that for 50 years he was involved in the construction of some 2,000 pools or fountains. But there was a special place in his heart for the Mary Kelly Fountain in Emory Village Plaza.

Sometimes he and his wife Mary would sit on the benches in the plaza watching the people interact and the water flowing. “It takes you away from the middle of the city—it’s such a treat to see it bring so much joy to people,” said the owner of Architectural Fountains and Pools, which donated the fountain.

Designed by Alliance to Improve Emory Village (AIEV) former chair Todd Hill, the fountain and its statue was dedicated September 21during the Village’s second Open Streets DeKalb festival.

The dedication celebrated the realization of an idea that germinated more than a half dozen years ago during a serendipitous encounter at a local restaurant. plaque

Sitting at the next table, Kelly overheard long time-time AIEV Board member Cynthia Tauxe telling her husband Rob about how the Alliance was exploring options for building a park or plaza on a small piece of land carved out when Oxford Road was shifted about 40 feet toward Emory’s gate to accommodate the new roundabout.

Tauxe mentioned the possibility of including a water feature in the new park if AIEV could find a donor.

“I always had this idea that I would like to do something special that would be here when I’m gone,” said Kelly.  “So I told Cynthia that she might have just found her donor.”

True to his word, Kelly worked with AIEV over the next half dozen years. The result is a two-level fountain with submersible pumps that recirculate 20,000 gallons of water an hour. Water from a well in the plaza flows through the fountain and irrigates the plaza trees and other plantings throughout parts of the Village.

“Why?” the Atkins Park resident was often asked.  “Plain and simple,” he answered. “ I figured if I built the fountain, I’d get to name it. “

He did, in honor of the two Mary’s in his life: his wife and mother.

“My mother was the perfect mother in my book,” said Kelly whose father died when he was 15. His mother devoted the rest of her life to her three children.  “And my wife Mary is the most awesome companion and joy of my entire life. They are two ladies who have been so special to me that I wanted to do something for them that would last for a long time.”

When the sculpture was placed in the center of the fountain in 2012,it brought everything together. Kelly attached an importance to the three soaring rails beyond their place in Village history. Part of a system that carried a trolley line to the Village for many years, the century-old rails were unearthed during the construction of the roundabout and the plaza and refashioned into a sculpturedesigned, created and donated by local metal works artist Charles Calhoun.

“I’ve always thought that there’s a secret meaning to those rails —they speak to what life is about,” Kelly reflected. “You have two straight rails and one that curves off in its own direction. They remind us that however perfect we think a situation is, tomorrow always brings something different and not always what we want.  I’m 71 years old and I’ve spent the past 15 years beating cancer.  I’m a living example of being blessed.”

From the time he was in high school and through college at Mercer, Kelly followed the footsteps of his father who worked in the wholesale plumbing and heating business. The younger Kelly eventually moved on to pool cleaning and maintenance, then worked for pool contractors, until his boss at a Buckhead pool company offered him a job in sales.

“I knew the basics of the industry but had never sold anything,” recalled Kelly. But his gift of gab served him well and in 1973, he was recognized as the first salesman in the Southeast to sell over $1 million worth of swimming pools in one year —no small feat considering that the average pool cost $10,000 to $15,000 at the time. In 1988, he started his own company, Architectural Fountains and Pools, that last year celebrated its 25th year in business.

While he built pools and fountains of all sizes, ranging from the pool at the Ritz Carlton in Buckhead to the Beckham Grove Fountain near the Emory Library, the Mary Kelly Fountain was his favorite.

“The wonderful thing is the friends that I have met through AIEV and the devotion and commitment that I’ve seen in these people. Building the fountain took six to eight months. At the plaza dedication (in 2012) I heard about how the volunteers in AIEV had worked for more than a decade to improve the Village.”

That work is not done. Emory has agreed to provide ongoing maintenance of the plaza and the fountain for the next five years. AIEV is considering further improvements to the village as well.

“This has fulfilled my life,” Kelly said. “The greatest thing that anyone can do in life is to give and you have a whole organization and a neighborhood of givers.

“I get such a kick every time Mary and I visit the fountain, to the point that I’m embarrassed when people say thank you. It’s me who should be thankful that I was given this opportunity. I want the neighborhood and the community to know that without them, I could have never said to my wife and my mother, I love and respect you and I honor you more than you’ll ever know.”

Ted Kelly passed away on August 22 after a long illness.

As Hill recalls, “Ted was a self-effacing man and always replied to me when I greeted him; ‘Good to see you” with “Good to be seen!’ He knew his years had been extended via experimental treatments that Emory was engaged in, and he was grateful. Ted was a humble and hardworking man; rich in spirit and generosity. As I wrote to Mary; ‘I appreciated his insight and suggestions to improve the Emory Village fountain, his tenacity to not accept poor quality granite coping, and of course his huge donation of time, resources, materials, and expertise to bring it to fruition! It is a wonderful and visible legacy to his life’s work.’”

Ted Kelly’s wife agrees. At the recent dedication of the fountain plaque, she said, :” I don’t deserve this very great honor, but I’m going to enjoy it anyway. Building this fountain was a dream come true for my husband, Ted Kelly. He always wanted to do something big that mattered. He always wanted to buy me a bigger diamond too. When the fountain was completed and he showed it to me he said: ‘here’s your diamond.’ I think it’s better than any diamond.”


Old Trolley Rails Return Home to the Village

postdemoAtlanta metal worker Charles Calhoun has turned history on end in Emory Village. Literally and figuratively. The result is a 15-foot high gleaming white  white sculpture with arms that stretch to the sky in salute to both the past and the future.

The Druid Hills resident and owner of Calhoun Design and Metal Works was approached last year by Becky Evans, a board member of the Alliance to Improve Emory Village, for ideas on how to reclaim the rusted, pitted rails that had been unearthed during the village streetscape renovation project in 2010. The rails were part of a long defunct trolley line to Emory Village. Could they be repurposed in some form for the new park in the village that was created from land left over after shifting Oxford Road to make room for the roundabout?

Calhoun salvaged several of the rails, measured them, and came up with a design for a sculpture that now graces Emory Village Park’s new fountain. After Lithia Power Coating sandblasted and stripped off layers of thick flaking rust, Calhoun cut the three rails to sizes ranging from 13 feet to 15 feet and welded them to an inch-thick steel plate. The rails are coated with a durable baked on white finish that ties in with the stone panels of the Emory gates, the park fountain, and the Emory Village sign — a juxtaposition of history and progress in the neighborhood and by Emory.

Each rail weighs about 700 pounds; together they make a hefty ton. The sculpture is mounted on poured concrete with heavy steel bolts that plunge deep into the bottom of the fountain. It was engineered by Bill Thornton of Correct Measure Services. While AIEV paid for the sandblasting and powder coating, Calhoun donated his time and company resources to fabricate, design, and place the sculpture.

The Springdale Road resident says he loves history and often makes furniture out of old gates and other architectural elements, and found objects. “I loved this project,” he says. “It was exciting to repurpose these rails which are at least 100 years old and it was a way to give back to the community. The whole park and revitalization of Emory Village has been a collaborative and tireless effort by so many people. What I did is just a small piece.”

The trolley was a big piece of the history of Atlanta, Druid Hills, and the Olmstead parks. Druid Hills landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, considered by many as the father of landscape architecture, believed that the ideal suburb should have “good roads and walks, sewer, water and gas pipes, and sufficiently cheap, rapid, comfortable transportation to the center of the city. That vision included the Atlanta street car system, which dates back to 1871 horse-car drawn trolleys. The system originated downtown at the Butler Street Barn and by the mid-1920s extended 214 miles. A feeder bus route established in 1929 supplemented existing service to more suburban areas in and around Emory, Ponce/Druid Hills and Decatur.

The “girder rails” uncovered during the Emory Village streetscape project were part of the Emory Village line built between 1902 and 1912 when the Georgia Railway & Electric Co. (now Georgia Power) expanded the streetcar system, according to Patrick Sullivan architectural historian with New South Associates. It terminated in Emory Village where the new roundabout now sits.

The trolleys typically ran down the middle of roads, and often used used double-end cars, which were the same in the front and back. When the trolley reached Emory Village, the motorman would flip the seats back the other way and the trolley would retrace its route via Oxford Road, the Byway, and Briarcliff. In their heyday, the trolleys were heavily used, but the introduction of automobile, labor issues, and the high cost of maintenance and operations eventually led to dismantling of the system. The Emory line (Route 28), was discontinued on December 28, 1946, and was replaced by trackless trolley.

While many of the old lines were ripped up during World War II for the steel, those that survived were buried like the rails in Emory Village. New South recently mapped those buried rails for the Georgia Department of Transportation. GDOT historian Sharman Southall says the rails are considered archeological resources that provide insights into how the trolley lines worked and their influence on built environments. Read the report. The Atlanta Streetcar Geodatabase is available for download on the GA GIS Clearinghouse.

Calhoun suspects that most people won’t initially recognize the sculpture as trolley tracks. “But when you look close you can see that the rails are damaged and pitted –it’s part of their texture and the history of all the life that was formed by the rail cars.”