Written by Caroline Colvin
Settled in the heart of Chattanooga’s Northshore neighborhood is Coolidge Park’s antique carousel. For $1, those of all ages can ride the carousel, taking in its unique design.
The carousel’s journey to Coolidge park began in Pennsylvania where it was constructed in 1894. Shortly after, it was transported to New York state. Many years later, following an unclear path of transportation, the carousel pieces were brought to Chattanooga by Bud Ellis to be restored.
The Coolidge carousel is a Dentzel model, thus it follows much of the vintage designs of the famous German carousel builder, Gustav Dentzel.
Bud Ellis was the owner of Chattanooga’s Horsin’ Around woodcarving school, which is now owned and operated by Larry Ridge. Ridge carves many animals himself, and also has a team and students that he teaches at the school.
According to Ridge, the frame of the Coolidge Park carousel is completely original, while the animals were crafted by Ellis, Ridge, and many other volunteers.
“Back in those days the collectability of carousel animals just went through the roof,” Ridge said. “There were cases where people would sell one animal for like $200,000.”
According to Ridge, this led to many empty carousel frames since major cities had sold the heavily sought-after animals.
Ridge said that from start to finish (not including painting), one carousel animal takes about an average of 400 hours. “It’s quite a sacrifice,” Ridge said. “The only thing I say is that the only talent you have to have is persistence.”
In 1999, the carousel was installed where it currently sits today, just in time for the opening of Coolidge Park.
Ridge said that he hopes that future generations will be able to enjoy the carousel as much as people do today.
“The history of America is written on the side of a carousel,” Ridge said. “It speaks for the history of America after the Civil War up to the Depression,” Ridge said.
In fact, the carousel industry drew many workers who were pushed out of their home countries and came to the U.S. in search of something better. Because of this, Ridge explained that some of the details on carousels are direct results of the types of carvings these workers did in other countries.
Zach Hull, superintendent for Riverparks maintenance in Chattanooga, said that the efforts to maintain the Coolidge carousel occur on a monthly basis.
“It’s great in the winter because it’s heated,” Hull said. “But in the summertime even you’ve got this big pipe organ that’s blasting music across the park. All the features are fun for kids, but then we find that there are tons of people of all ages that are riding this carousel.”
“Having it here is just yet another draw to what a lot of people would consider a huge tourist draw for the city of Chattanooga. Its fun, its inviting, and it is a big chunk of history which Chattanooga is pretty rich in too”
As of right now, Hull said that the carousel has about 10,000 riders monthly.
In 2024, Chattanooga’s Coolidge park and the carousel will celebrate the 25th anniversary of its opening. According to Hull, the park hopes to be able to celebrate appropriately, ensuring that the carousel gets the attention it deserves.
Meet the Storyteller
Caroline Colvin is a writer and the Assistant Features Editor for UTC’s student newspaper. She is a junior with a double major in communications and Spanish and hopes to use her Spanish major to expand whose stories she can tell. After all, her passion is finding and sharing the stories of the communities around her to promote compassion and humanity, even when it proves difficult. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.