In the modern world, we have gas stations for our convenience. In the age of the horse and buggy, gas stations were not needed; however, water was. Public drinking troughs, often with decorative fountains, were commonplace in all towns and cities. In some historic districts these still exist, and the range of decoration is truly amazing.
However, in most places, the trough was purely utilitarian. They were placed either in convenient town centers and supplied with water from the public water system, or in more remote areas where a horse might need to pause (as it might be at the top of a hill) and where a spring could provide water. Obviously, river and stream crossings also supplied water. These were generally wooden and it is likely that none of these, once ubiquitous, roadside icons still survive. Though, the springs that served them can sometimes still be found. There is one on River Road in Barkhamsted, between Pleasant Valley and Riverton, for example.
In the center of New Hartford there were several troughs. At the intersection of Bridge, Church, and Route 44 a large riveted barrel served as the trough. This was a very utilitarian one; but it served well. It later was used at Asa and Irving Burdick’s dairy farm on Town Hill as a trough for the dairy cattle. Legend has it that this barrel also served as the local drunk tank, in the old meaning of the phrase.
A more ornate water fountain was found at the Community House, now the Post Office lot. Modeled on European, multi-level fountains this was on private property, but nonetheless served the public. When drinking troughs were no longer used, this fountain found its way to a private home in New Hartford, where it remains to this day.