Community Rescue: A Carousel for All AgesJun 11, 2021 04:50PM ● By Stephanie Kalina-Metzger
In 1999, the Pottstown Historical Society learned of a carousel and mechanism and floor for sale in Pine Grove, Pa. Visions of laughing children and vibrantly colored animals danced in their heads as they dreamed of recreating this popular form of entertainment. The group jumped at the chance to embark upon a community project.
History of the carousel
“What is interesting about it was that in 1905, there were no electric lines out there. We were told it ran off of a steam engine in the middle of a field,” said Alan MacBain, vice president of The Carousel at Pottstown Board.
In 1910, the carousel was replaced by Philadelphia Toboggan Co. Carousel Number 19, and moved to Laurel Springs Amusement Park, Hartford, Conn., in 1925, where it was reconfigured to include jumping animals and two chariots. It was later moved to Kauffman’s Park, Mount Gretna, where it operated from 1926 to 1928.
It was moved again, once to Lexington, Ky.’s Joyland Park, then to Pine Grove in 1964, where it operated in Twin Grove Park through the mid-1970s. In the 1980s, the animals and artwork were sold off to a private collector.
An ambitious endeavor
The Pottstown Historical Society’s first order of business was to create a nonprofit corporation and solicit sponsors to underwrite the cost of refurbishing the mechanism and adding animals. As word spread, space to work on the project was donated. Mark Saylor and Donna Pearson created a monetary fund in the memory of their late toddler, Derek S. Saylor, to whom the carousel is dedicated.
Recreating the fun
According to MacBain, the only photos on hand were in black and white. “The animals were recreated from the photos and we tried to color coordinate them,” said MacBain, adding that the mechanism still contained some of the correct colors.
The next hurdle was to find a carver. The historical society reached out to the community and learned of California-based Ed Roth, a master sculptor of hand-carved, wooden animals. “Ed did the Santa Monica Pier carousel and also carves for Disney theme parks,” said MacBain, adding that Roth agreed to carve the animals at a discount, with the stipulation that he would carve them in between projects. Over the next 15 years, Roth carved 48 animals.
The next step was sanding and painting the animals. Blind volunteer and Pottstown native Bob Roebuck did most of the sanding between 2003 and 2013. MacBain, who worked as a cartoonist and illustrator, painted eight of the animals and both of the chariots. His retired elementary school art teacher, Arline Christ, volunteered to paint many of the others.
“All by herself, she painted 18 of 48,” said Macbain, who estimates that each animal took a total of 250 hours to make, from start to finish. “As interesting as it sounds, it was quite the chore since they are full-sized animals,” he said.
A larger space was needed to refurbish the floor, store the animals and accommodate the center pole, which is a repurposed mast from an 1860s Philadelphia ship. That’s when yet another philanthropic individual stepped up. Jay Bounds, owner of the former Bethlehem Steel Yard, agreed to donate 100,000-square-feet of space under the agreement that he would ride the carousel for free in the future.
Local artist Elaine Bauer was hired to paint local landmarks on each of the 18 rounding board panels atop the carousel. Many of the scenes, including homes, churches, businesses and factories, existed in 1905 but are no longer around. Other panels carry portraits of people dressed in period-correct clothing, and another group of panels above feature people and pets. Many are memorials. All of the panels were sponsored by local people or businesses.
As for music, MacBain said, “We have two band organs that are in need of repair. It will cost twice the value of them to replace, so we are using piped-in music,” he said.
Visiting the carousel
The carousel is located at the intersection of Rt. 100 and King Street at the former Pottstown Metal Welding Co., which the borough purchased using Montgomery County Open-Space funds. The building was adapted to house the carousel and visitor amenities through a fundraising effort. A Green Infrastructure Grant allowed for the creation of a 2.7-acre park, including the adapted carousel building, trails, parking and landscape.
The site is being leased to the historical society for $1 a year for 25 years. Community member volunteers helped clean the building, which had been vacant for years. Diamond sanders were used to polish the concrete floor and a snack bar was added in the form of an 1860 horse-drawn trolley car from Wilmington, Del.
For young and old to enjoy
According to MacBain, people of all ages have been enjoying the ride since the soft opening in December 2016. Craig Nye, a carousel enthusiast, made it a point to visit the merry-go-round when he learned about it from a friend who lives in Pottstown. “We had a great time. It has a nice variety of animals, along with a nice gift shop,” said Nye.
MacBain said that the project may have taken 17 years from start to finish, but the end result was worth it.
“We couldn’t have done it without so many individuals stepping forward to help out in various ways. It was not only a labor of love, but an example of the community coming together towards one goal and we are confident that it will bring smiles to both young and old for many years to come.”
The Carousel at Pottstown is currently open for private events only due to COVID precautions. For more information, visit the website at https://www.carouselatpottstown.org/.
Stephanie Kalina-Metzger is an award-winning writer, whose work can be seen in dozens of publications across the United States.
Visit SusquehannaLife.com/WebExtras for more information photographs about Philadelphia Toboggan Co. carousels.