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Parks and Rec plans carousel restoration

Jim Burress, director of Parks and Recreation, listens as Marina Blake describes the pinstripes on of of Marianne Stevens’ other carousels at the first meeting for restoring the Herschel Spillman Carousel at Spring River Park and Zoo. (Alison Penn Photo)

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A group of volunteers and city staff intends to restore the 91-year-old carousel at Spring River Park and Zoo.

Ten artisan volunteers will collaborate with Parks and Recreation and Spring River Park and Zoo staff. All contributors viewed the carousel mid-morning on Monday for their first meeting to examine each animal figure as well as the operational mechanism.

“It’s coming up on the 50th anniversary in 2020,” Brinkman Randle said. “We want it really spectacular. At that time we can apply for historical landmark because it will have been here for 50 years.”

Gina Montague, administrative assistant, said the city would do their best to keep it open for its April through October season, but close if needed. Montague said there is not currently a set budget and the group will be working on the inventory of the carousel to determine costs. She said this will be an expensive project and a donation campaign will take place once the cost is determined.

“It needs a lot of TLC — a lot of cleaning,” Domingo Munoz from Parks and Recreation said. “Mechanically it is not too bad. Other than the main drive — the clutch that needs to be redone. Other than that it is just a lot of maintenance, keeping up with everything, making sure it’s running properly.”

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Iris Watson, a local woodcarver and lover of carousels, said she approached Jim Burress, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, at the beginning of the year to ask if the original wood carousel could receive the care it needed. Watson is from North Tonawanda, New York, where the zoo’s Herschel Spillman carousel was made in 1927. Her hometown has a carousel museum. Watson said carousels of this age were made of basswood and some of the figures could be dated to the early 1900s and some are from 40s and 50s. She said carousels had a heyday in 1920, when people loved such entertainment.

Watson is already working on the lead horse, with a broken leg in her shop. Watson and the team will assess pieces with the worst conditions first and slowly take one at a time to not disrupt the carousel’s season. Burress said the goal is to have the history available to the public, and the group is considering a museum quality restoration of the lead horse to share with the community.

“If we get a good tight group of people together that are all on the same path and down the same trail we are going to end up having a really magnificent looking carousel, I think, for Roswell,” Watson said. “We have to! It’s here — let’s do it.”

Randle said he helped install the carousel in 1970 when he was a teenager and he will assist with whatever needs to be done. Marina Blake said she helped with the carousel around that time as well after Marianne Stevens donated the carousel. Stevens passed away 2012 according to her obituary.

“They’ve been on different machines all over the country,” Blake said. “Some are of them are Mexican figures — some of them are French and German figures. They all started life somewhere else and ended up together on this Herschel Spillman Mechanism.”

Blake said refurbishing takes hard work and some attempts have been unsuccessful. Randle said he felt good about it this time because he has seen a serious interest.

Blake said locals need to realize the carousel is a work of art, not indestructible, and has a history of effort and care from people in the community. Blake said she remembers when four figures were stolen from the carousel and the lead horse was found in the Hondo Valley. The theft appeared in the August 5, 1999 edition of the Daily Record.

Becky Joyce, a member of the parks and rec commission, and Kathy Burch, a commercial artist, are other contributors who were present on Monday. Saying she would like to see it as perfect at the restoration of Disneyland’s carousel, Burch said she hopes after restoration the carousel will have supervision and constant care.

“It’s not as big of a job as originally I thought,” Burch said. “There’s a lot of things that need to be addressed. This looks pretty but when you get up you see these cracks and they need to address those. They need to get down to the base, get the paint off, fix those stresses and those things — and then repaint them.”

In “100 Years of Dreams: A History of Roswell Parks and Recreation”, A.B. Gwinn wrote that Spring River Park and Zoo moved to its current location in 1966, opening that summer, and Marianne Stevens, a Roswell resident of 37 years and carousel aficionado, donated the carousel — which was installed in March 1971. The carousel was in operation on May 26, 1971, on the condition that the city would take care of it and house it, according to Gwinn’s book. In 1972, Stevens and a committee worked to bring the train to the zoo. Former Mayor William F. Brainerd made a proclamation on July 31, 1991, dedicating this date as Spring River Park and Zoo day. This proclamation listed Stevens’ contribution of the carousel and the train.

A contributor to Gwinn’s publication, Gailanne Dill, wrote that Stevens said there were 6,000 to 10,000 carousels at the turn of the century and only 325 in 1971. Gwin said 160 carousels were in operation in the U.S. in 1991. Stevens said to Dill that she believed Spring River’s Carousel will be around to entertain for years to come.

“I gave the carousel to the zoo because I had such happy childhood memories of carousels,” Stevens said to Dill in 1991. “To see the expression on children’s faces after the ride is over made it all worthwhile.”

Marge Woods, Spring River Park and Zoo superintendent, provided data from the fiscal year 2016-2017 that 18,000 tickets were sold for 50 cents for the train and carousel. Woods said the ride’s season is April to October, with the carousel open three days a week until September, then dropping to two.

“The carousel — it’s part of Roswell’s history,” Andrea Cole, senior zookeeper, said. “People remember the carousel like they remember the rocket and they remember the train. I think it is just trying to preserve it. Future generations will get to see it and say ‘Hey, when I was a kid I rode on the big rooster or the train.’”

Cole said the carousel is faster now than what she remembers from her childhood when she would visit the zoo.

“I want to see the lights again,” Woods said. “I want to see it refurbished to its originality — it’s beautiful. It’s a treasure and everybody is used to it because it has always been here, but nobody knows the history of it. That’s what we are trying to fix.

“I know that the community is passionate about this and they want to keep it here, and that’s what I want. I want to see it restored and it’s going to be beautiful. It already is.”

City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.

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