Greenport Carousel – A History
No visit to Greenport Village is complete without a spin (or two or three) on the antique carousel in Mitchell Park. Reach for the brass ring as you swing by on one of its carved, wooden horses or relax in one of the chariots. It’s easy to dismiss this bit of 20th Century Americana as a mere amusement — but the Greenport Carousel is so much more than that.
The Carousel was built in 1920 by the Herschell-Spillman Company in North Tonawanda, New York (near Buffalo). Originally the Armitage Herschell Company, the company manufactured steam boilers until founder Allan Herschell started making wooden carousels propelled by steam boilers in 1883. By the end of the 19th Century, the Armitage Herschell Company delivered a carousel a day as far as India and Tahiti. Herschell’s carousel designs were perfect for the carnival industry: rigidly-posed horses and portable engines were easily packed and shipped between destinations. Herschell branched out to roller coasters and other thrill rides, making his company the largest manufacturer of amusement rides in the world.
During the “Golden Age of Carousels” (1880 -1930), the National Carousel Association estimates that close to 5,000 carousels were carved in the US; according to their January 2019 census, fewer than 180 classic wooden carousels remain — including the Greenport Carousel. Census records indicate that from 1920 to about 1950, the Carousel was owned by a traveling carnival, possibly located in New York; circa 1950, the Carousel was relocated to a farmer’s market in Nassau County. The Grumman Company acquired the Carousel in 1955 for use at company picnics at its Calverton plant.
Fast forward to 1996 and the Carousel, long disused and boarded up in its pavilion along Route 25, was left behind when the newly-merged Northrop Grumman Corporation shuttered the Calverton site. But there’s truth in the adage that one man’s junk is another man’s treasure: Greenport Village Mayor David Kapell wanted the abandoned Carousel. Dedicated to reversing the long, slow decline of the downtown business district, Kapell envisioned the Carousel as central to the gentrification and revitalization of Greenport. Together with the Village Board and the local civic, Kapell launched an all-out campaign to acquire it from Northrop-Grumman and won: in 1997, the “Northrop Grumman Carousel” arrived in Greenport.
The Carousel moved from location to location in Greenport until Kapell could execute upon another facet of his revitalization plan: creating a park and public space from a 3+ acre waterfront lot, unoccupied since 1978 when a fire destroyed the prior business. The Village acquired the property in 1996; with Federal and State assistance, the long-blighted lot became Mitchell Park and opened to the public on June 29, 2001. The Carousel was moved to the “Jess Owen Carousel House” — a gleaming, modern structure anchoring the park’s open-air performance space, promenade and marina.
Since 2001, Mitchell Park has been expanded to include an ice rink, a seasonal sprinkler garden and a camera obscura — but the Carousel remains the star attraction. Swing by some balmy afternoon, pick your favorite steed and hop on. So much more than just an amusement ride, the Carousel’s nostalgia trip will only set you back $2 bucks. It’s worth it.