Header 1

BLOG: The Holyoke Merry-Go-Round


May 10, 2011 by Krystal

It seemed like “Once upon a time” that the City of Holyoke was its own unique destination point with a one of a kind city life that nowadays we see everywhere and often take for granted. The hopping downtown shopping scene, the one of kind local restaurants, and of course Holyoke’s treasured Mountain Park, all of which are specific memories that both past and present Holyoke residents still love to speak of. Though some of the local restaurants continue with their one of a kind business, and the downtown shopping scene has managed to change with the times, nothing can replace the magic that was Mountain Park. First introduced to the public in 1897, Mountain Park featured just an enchanted garden, a large dance hall, a modest size roller coaster, a small German carousel and an open air restaurant, which at the time was quite small compared to its later expansion. Though that version of the park drew in many families from across the state of Massachusetts, it wasn’t until 1929 when new manager Louis Pellissier, head of the Holyoke Street Railway, expanded the amusement park and contributed to what many remember today. New concessions and games of skill were added, but their largest crowd pleasers were certainly a newly custom-designed roller coaster the “Mountain Cat”, and magical merry-go-round. Both of these amusements were crafted from the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, one of the world’s largest amusement companies at the time, which often would persuade roller coaster buyers by throwing in the merry-go-round for no additional cost, as carousel production was at its peak. Later on in 1953, John Collins purchased Mountain Park from Pellisier and remodeled the venue with the goal of specifically fitting the needs of the new generation. In no time at all, the park instantly came to life with live entertainment, several thrill seeking rides, a shaded picnic grove, frozen custard among many other concessions and the addition of “Kiddieland” fit for the littlest youngsters. The venue was perfectly fit for all ages and would welcome teenage hipsters with sounds of the latest rock and roll and the thrill of roller coasters, while parents relaxed in the shaded picnic grove with good company, and endless hours of entertainment for youngsters in Kiddieland. No matter where the family dispersed upon arriving at the park, all ages would join together to ride the magical merry-go-round. The rides band organ would fill the park with its melody. At the time, Mountain Park was the only amusement park that many of Western MA residents had traveled to and it’s ambiance was perfect for the entire family.

nfortunately, in 1987 Mountain Park decided to close and began advertising rides for sale, including its magical merry-go-round that so many visitors had grown to love over the course of 50 plus years. At the time, merry-go-rounds were in high demand and the specific design of the individual carousel horses were selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even though John Collins had received several offers, one included a 2 million dollar bid, he wanted to sell it closer to home as it was such a huge piece of Holyoke history. It wasn’t until John Hickey, head of the Holyoke Water Power Company at the time, approached Collins with a proposal to sell the City of Holyoke the merry-go-round. Collins agreed to the extremely low price of $875,000 and Hickey wasted no time at all encouraging donations from everyone who wanted to see the merry-go-round remain local. Hickey knew that he couldn’t raise the funds on his own so he recruited Angela Wright, a Holyoke resident known for her successful fundraising ability. Their newly formed non-profit group, “The Friends of the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round”, put out word of the fundraiser and quickly became flooded with donations from throughout the country from those who cherished their merry-go-round memories of Mountain Park. Local area businesses and restaurants rallied together and donated their services for printing brochures, catering fundraiser parties, and James Curran, the head of a local construction firm, even donated his services to dismantle the carousel and rebuild it. No helper was too big or too small to contribute, as proven by the Holyoke school children who helped raise $32,000 from simple activities and bake sales within a matter of a weeks time.

Even The Mount Tom Ski Area donated their billboard space along Holyoke’s popular Route 5 encouraging Holyoke to “Hold Your Horses.” The city came together and worked side by side to help see that the merry-go-round they shared childhood memories on would remain a part of Holyoke history. Through the hard work of every contributor and every donation, the City of Holyoke was able to meet the $875,000 required to purchase the merry go round. Though they had purchased the merry-go-round, Hickey’s group then had to raise money to build the structure that would house the merry-go-round. With the help of Timothy Murphy, a local architect who volunteered his services, the design of the pavilion that would house the merry go round was almost identical to that of Mountain Park.

Local contractor James Curran, donated his services to dismantle the merry-go-round and place it in storage while the new building was in construction. During this time, a crew of volunteers helped to re-paint the entire ride including Hickey, who even brought each of the horses into his home to personally re-painted them himself. The people who remembered the joy of Mountain Park joined together for the sake of preserving such a cherished piece of nostalgia and in doing, so they made a step forward in Holyoke’s revitalization.It was only fitting to have the merry-go-round placed in the center of Holyoke at Holyoke’s Heritage State Park for all to enjoy year round. The carousel opened its doors officially on December 7, 1993 and within its first ten years had over a half-million riders. Still located at Holyoke’s Heritage State Park, the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round is just as those remembered riding from Mountain Park. Its 48 hand carved wooden horses, whose details capture the life like features of a real horse, offer riders the choice between “standers” and “jumpers”, the difference being that the standers are stationary. Open year round, the merry go round opens its doors every Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4PM and during summer months is open Tuesday through Sunday. Prices are extremely reasonable,$1 per ride or 6 for $5, and they run specials throughout the year such as on Valentine’s Day, where one rider paid and their “sweetheart” rode free. The merry-go-round is available for booking for those interested in a one of a kind experience. The magic of the merry go round makes for an extra special location for birthday parties, private parties or a unique wedding. The whimsical band organ fills the pavilion with the familiar sounds of the Mountain Park fairgrounds, photos of shared memories throughout the years, and of course acknowledgement to the people who donated endless hours of volunteering and fundraising to help make the Holyoke Merry Go Round a reserved piece of history.

The merry go round credits the generous support of volunteers who have donated their services, their extra time and through generous donations from all over the country to help maintain the carousel’s beauty. The magic of the merry go round could not be what it is today without the man who started the preservation movement, Mr. John T. Hickey. In his honor, the Holyoke Merry Go Round’s original “The Friends Annual Preservation Fund” is now the “John T. Hickey Preservation Fund” and will forever treasure the vision John had to save the beautiful merry-go-round. Donations can be made to the John T. Hickey Fund at anytime and those wishing to volunteer their time or services are always welcome.

Read article on Ross Insurance's website here.