Known as the Rocky Springs Carousel, until 2001, when it was renamed the Stoner Carousel, Lancaster’s c.1924 antique “merry-go-round” is considered to be one of the finest and best-preserved hand-carved wood park carousels in the United States. There are fewer than 100 intact historic wooden carousels left in the country, of over 3,000 that were carved in America by European immigrants, between 1880 and 1930, the Golden Age of Carousels.
From as early as 1995, famed carousel carver Gustav Dentzel of Germantown Boulevard in Philadelphia, brought potential customers to visit his show-case park carousel, sited in Lancaster’s popular community park along the Conestoga River, a few miles south of the city. This park eventually became the Rocky Springs Amusement Park, a grand attraction served by several trolley lines.
The Dentzel Company was the premier builder of American wooden carousels in the U.S. and Lancaster’s carousel was an example of their best work, which uniquely included realistically detailed “menagerie” animals, including lions, tigers, and roosters, not just the horses typical on other American carousels. Originally a steam-powered carousel with stationary animals, the park carousel was converted to electric power in 1903. Then in 1923, the Dentzel company removed, reconfigured, and enlarged Lancaster’s carousel at their factory, converting it to their top-of-the-line “Jester Head” design, with three rows of hand-carved animals, finely painted enclosure panels, and the latest jumper mechanism, so that 25 of the 48 animals could go up and down. We date our carousel to this time, c.1924, although it includes animals from the original stationary carousel, some carved from 1880 to the 1890’s. There are 25 jumper horses, 8 “stander” horses, and 15 menagerie animals: a giraffe, deer, mountain goat, zebra, lion, rooster, tiger, two Weimeraner dogs, two mules, and four ostriches. The carousel includes a ring-game machine, 2 painted chariots (bench seats), as well as a 1901 Wurlitzer-Gavioli band organ with hundreds of #165 Wurlitzer music rolls.
The carousel was purchased from the Dentzel company by Joseph Figari in 1925, a park concession operator, who within a decade purchased the park’s other amusement rides, and then the Rocky Springs Park property. The park closed in the late 1960’s, after attendance declined following protests and boycotts centered around racial segregation of the park’s large community swimming pool. The amusement park was revived in the late1979, but closed again in 1981. The couple that owned the carousel at that time, Kim Figari Wolf and Tom Wolf, were unable to find another location in Lancaster County or elsewhere in Pennsylvania for the carousel, and so moved it to a site in Michigan, and then later to the Dollywood Amusement Park in Pigeon Ford, Tennessee. In 1998, after Dollywood decided not to renew its lease with the carousel owners, they announced they would sell it at auction.
At this time, wooden carousel animals were being purchased by antique collectors at record prices, in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars for individual animals, and historic carousels had been dismantled around the country. A group of Lancaster County civic leaders, led by Lancaster Mayor Charlie Smithgall and local carousel experts Mike and Noreene Sweeney, advocated to bring this unique piece of Lancaster history back to our community, raising $1.2 million in private donations to save it from the auction block.
The carousel’s name was changed in 2001 to honor the $500,000 donation of Loretta Stoner Ecklin, granddaughter of the founder of Stoner, Inc, a business based in Quarryville. The carousel animals, band organ, and the machine and it’s parts, have been in storage in Lancaster ever since.
Our band organ dates to 1900 and is by Gavioli, the most famous Italian builder of band organs, which are automatic musical instruments designed to replicate the sounds of a live band. It is furniture style, with side wings, and includes a snare drum, bass drum, and cymbal. We are fortunate to have an extensive collection of vintage and reproduction Wurlitzer #165 paper music rolls, collected by Tom Wolf, who operated the organ and carousel for decades.
The spirit of America and volunteerism is evident in “Patriot” who was created to serve as a contemporary replacement horse, for occasions when an original horse is taken off the carousel for a repair. Patriot was exhibited around Lancaster to help raise funds to pay for the carousel! Beginning with a gift from sponsor Fox Chapel Publishing, and Lancaster County Wood Carvers. Patriot was hand-carved by Chuck Kaparich in the century-old style of Gustav Dentzel, and painted by Bette Largent in Spokane Washington.
Tom Wolf, who operated the Stoner Carousel for two decades, visited Lancaster from his home in Florida in April 2022 to advise the RSCA Board on our restoration plans. Here, he is getting his first view of the carousel animals in 23 years, since he loaded them into trailers at Dollywood to make the journey home to Lancaster.
In 2005, Lisa Parr began the process of restoring 14 of the carousel animals to their former glory.
In all these restored figures, Lisa Parr did not choose the colors for any of the animals and did not change or augment any of the paint or designs. They are all the factory colors and carvings that Lisa revealed, even the most garish of colors, and the widest of pin-striping. There was little actual repair necessary; only the Rooster needed wood replacement because of tail feather shifting and wood shrinkage.
To see more photos of the restoration process, click the link below.