In the golden age of carousels (1890s–1920s), riding was more than just a dandy spin on the horse of your choice (which would have most certainly been a jumper that galloped up and down rather than the mundane stander that didn't move). These whirling works of art were intricately created—hand carved and painted, with passengers serenaded by real pipe organ music and self-playing drums. It's rare to take a ride on one of these distinguished carousels today (most current carousels are factory-constructed from fiberglass molds). In Hampton, however, the nostalgia still spins 'round.
Built by the Philadelphia Tobaggan Co. in 1920, the Hampton Carousel served as a main attraction at Hampton's Buckroe Beach Amusement Park from 1921 until1985 when it was purchased by the City of Hampton. Its prancing horses and extravagant chariots were hand-carved and painted by German, Italian and Russian immigrant artisans.
The carousel was completely restored in 1991, thanks to generous donations of citizens, civic associations, schools, local businesses and carousel enthusiasts, like the National Carousel Association, whose 43rd annual convention was headquartered in Hampton last September.
Today the carousel is housed in a weather-protected pavilion in downtown Hampton and is operated by the Hampton History Museum. More than just an amusing pastime, the carousel serves as a rare example of American folk art and is one of only 170 antique wooden carousels still in existence in the U.S. today. The horses, chariots, beveled mirrors, band organ and music rolls are all original, a grand example of how this memorable merry-go-round has come full circle.
The Hampton Carousel opens for its season beginning April 1 and operates Tuesday–Sunday, 11 a.m.–8 p.m.