After 18 years of work, volunteer group reopens PTC carousel #9

AT: B. Derek Shaw

POTTSTOWN, Pa. — The laughter and merriment from children of all ages is alive and well at The Carousel at Pottstown. However, that effort took 18 years and the dedication of dozens of volunteers to make it happen.

This three-row menagerie carousel has an extensive history. Originally built in 1905 by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company and designated #9, it first took up residence at Euclid Beach Park, Cleveland, Ohio. After four years it went to Laurel Springs Amusement Park, Hartford, Conn., where it stayed until 1925. That year the carousel was returned to PTC to be updated with jumping animals and two chariots, also getting renamed as #74R. The next year, it was at Kauffman’s Park, Mount Gretna, Pa., where it remained for three years. From 1929 to 1964, Joyland Park, Lexington, Ky. was its home, followed by Twin Grove Park, Pine Grove, Pa., until closing sometime in the mid-1970s. It was during the early 1980s that the carousel was dismantled with the animals being sold at auction. The remains went to a private collector in Dallastown, Pa. 

George Wausnock is a volunteer who has been with the project since the beginning. It all got started when Wausnock was president of the Pottstown Historic Society. The group was asked to provide a display of historic photographs of the local area for a home builders show in the town’s Sunnybrook Ballroom. The theme that year was carousels, with a portable one outside the show. “On this cold, windy March day, I observed parents on the outside of Sunnybrook Ballroom putting their kids on the horses. It was raining, it was damp. I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to have a carousel inside, somewhere near downtown Pottstown. It would be great for economic development and tourism.” 

The operator who brought the portable unit told Wausnock about the PTC #9’s carousel mechanism, rounding boards, sweeps and platform that were available about 80 miles west of Pottstown. The Carousel at Pottstown is a non-profit that was formed at that time, approaching the historical society for financial backing to purchase the carousel remains and transport to the city. 

“It came in so many ugly parts. Most of the animals were sold off over the years,” said Wausnock.                

New animals were commissioned from Ed Roth, owner of A&E Sculpting and Paint Studio, Los Alamitos, Calif. Roth, a master sculptor, had previously done work for Seabreeze Amusement Park, Rochester, N.Y., and Disney parks. He also restored the Smithsonian Institute’s carousel that is down the road at the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia, Pa. “We had to have all these [animals] replicated to match the early Philadelphia Toboggan Company carousel.” Since the local group was in no hurry, Roth worked on a few at a time between larger projects. 

As the carving portion was completed, the animals were shipped to Pottstown where an army of volunteers worked on sanding and painting each one of them. One volunteer, Bob Roebuck, stood out. 

“Every animal that came in, he hand sanded. Unfortunately he is blind. That’s why it took so long,” said Wausnock. “The volunteers that wanted to paint these animals took them home; they took them to their office; they took them to their businesses. People painted them when they could paint them.” Each horse has nearly 250 hours of volunteer time to complete. This painstaking process took 18 years to accomplish. 

Locals getting weary on the progress wondered when the nearly two-decade restoration project was going to be completed. “I felt like Michelangelo for years. They said George, ‘When? When George?’ I had brown hair when this thing started!” added the now grey-haired Wausnock. “Now they have embraced it – they just love it. They are so proud of this carousel being here in Pottstown.” 

From an 18-year work-in-progress to a magnificently restored machine, the Carousel at Pottstown has quickly become one of the crowning jewels of this southeastern Pennsylvania city enjoyed by all who visit. 

The Carousel at Pottstown opened for the first time for riders in Dec. 2016. The attraction is visited by locals as well as people around the region. Birthday parties, receptions, reunions, meetings, as well as corporate and community events fill the operation schedule. There are frequent tour buses, including many from Maryland, Delaware and Virginia. Some visitors are on a “mysterious bus tour” and the carousel happens to be one of the stops. Free off-street parking is available on site. 

Located in a nearly 10,000-square-foot vintage building that once housed a welding operation, the structure is now owned by the borough of Pottstown and leased to the historic society. In the past, the building was used to restore railroad cars along with other items requiring welding work. Now, in addition to the carousel, the restored building houses an entrance area/gift shop, arcade machines, a cornhole game, a snack bar located in an 1860s horse-drawn trolley and numerous band organs on loan from several individuals. 

The complete operation is maintained through the help of more than two dozen volunteers who perform different tasks including ride operations, ride/animal maintenance, gift shop operations, marketing and custodial services.

The carousel is dedicated to Derek Scott Saylor, who tragically passed at the young age of only two years old. Saylor’s parents were the first to give a sizeable donation for the carousel project. The young boy’s picture can be seen in the gift shop above the entrance to the carousel. 

Coming this summer, the carousel will add one of its fanciest animals. The group owns a rearing hippocampus (or sea horse) which is currently in the process of being painted prior to its forthcoming addition to the indoor menagerie.       

Directly behind the building is an outdoor miniature golf course that the borough has given to the operation along with a hot dog stand. There are plans for an outdoor patio, additional party rooms and a catering kitchen. The group also hopes to add a small eight or twelve seat Ferris wheel directly east of the building as an additional attraction for visitors in warmer months.  


This article appears in the APRIL 2019 issue of Amusement Today.
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