Children's Museum of Memphis gets 100-year-old carousel spinning again

An historic attraction from the Memphis of yesteryear is set to make its return by this fall, when the grand carousel ride from the former Libertyland amusement park will debut as part of a new expansion at the Children’s Museum of Memphis.
 
Construction on the 20,000-square-foot expansion to the museum got underway near the end of last summer. Ohio-based Carousels & Carvings Inc. is at work restoring the 48 horses and two sleighs of the 100-plus-year-old carousel. 
 
“It’s a beloved artifact that a lot of people have a strong attachment to,” said Tim Michael, co-owner of designshop pllc, the architecture and design firm for the $5 million project.

The general contractor on the project is Montgomery Martin Contractors, and civil and structural engineering is provided by Davis Patrikios Criswell.

Libertyland may have closed in 2005, but its cornerstore ride is off to a new life.
 
The grand carousel as it stood years ago at Libertyland.Carousels & Carvings traveled to Memphis in 2009 to disassemble the carousel, which had been locked up for years in a tractor trailer with the doors welded shut so that no one could damage the pieces, which are valued at more than $1 million. 
 
The restoration includes stripping the paint layer by layer from the carousel parts and doing analysis to determine the original colors used.
 
“We’ve seen a couple of the horses come back completely restored, and they just look magnificent,” said Michael. “When the carousel comes back, it will be as close to the original as it could possibly be.”
 
The children’s museum acquired the rights to the ride from the city of Memphis. The museum itself is built inside a World War II-era army building, and an adjacent army building immediately next door houses the museum’s administrative offices.
 
“The new addition will serve as a linkage between those two buildings, and that linkage will be the new entry specifically to the carousel portion of the museum,” said Michael.
 
The expansion includes a 20-foot lobby with glass on the north and south sides as well as a large banquet hall that will be available for special events of up to 300 people.
 
“The idea is that the carousel, although it is the centerpiece of the project, will be a backdrop to the banquet hall,” said Michael.
 
The carousel will be reassembled inside a carousel house, a large circular glass enclosed structure with a sweeping wooden roof about 40 feet off the ground. The grand carousel is one of the oldest all-horse carousels in the nation. It was built in 1909 by William H. Dentzel, who also designed some carousel houses.
 
“The profile of our roof is patterned after one of the early 1900-era structures by Dentzel,” said Michael. “So, architecturally, it will tie back and pay homage to him.”
 
As people ride the carousel, they will be able to see great views out north to Central Avenue.
 
“And as you are driving by on Central at nighttime, because there is so much glass you will be able to see the lights of the carousel as it’s spinning inside,” explained Michael. “So we think it’s going to be pretty spectacular.”
 

Read more articles by Michael Waddell.

Michael Waddell is a native Memphian who returned to Memphis several years ago after working for nearly a decade in San Diego and St. Petersburg, Fla., as a writer, editor and graphic designer. His work over the past few years has been featured in The Memphis Daily News, Memphis Bioworks Magazine, Memphis Crossroads, the New York Daily News and the New York Post. Contact Michael.
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