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The Dream

Volunteers Working to Bring Carousel to Kingsport

Matthew Lane
Kingsport Times-News, July 17, 2010

Photo: William Stephanos


KINGSPORT — One man’s dream of bringing a carousel to the Model City is being carried on by a group of local volunteers who are asking the community for support in making it a reality.

Over the past four or five years, Kingsport resident Gale Joh worked on bringing a carousel to Kingsport, researching carousels through magazines and businesses and speaking with residents of other communities that had them. Joh became inspired for such a project after growing up in Binghamton, N.Y. — the "Carousel Capital of the World" — a Kingsport-sized town that boasts six historic carousels in its greater metropolitan area.

Joh’s widow, Kingsport Alderwoman Valerie Joh, said the carousel project gave her husband a great deal of purpose during the last couple of years of his life.

"When he first started talking to me about it, I had no idea we’d get this far and actually make it. I thought it was a pipe dream he had. He kept talking about how wonderful it would be, what we have to do, and he kept getting information and calling people from all over the country," she said. "Gale had been sick the last four or five years, and he latched onto this and thought it was something Kingsport should have."


When Gale Joh died on April 11, his obituary stated memorial contributions could be given to the carousel project. More than $2,000 has been donated to the project, and Kingsport’s Cultural Arts Division has received a $2,500 grant to help cover the tuition costs of students working to carve the animals for the carousel.

"I am thrilled out of my mind. I can’t think of anything that would mean more to him," Valerie Joh said. "I may even carve (an animal). I was an art major in college. I have and love horses, and I thought that may be something I actually want to do."

Reggie Martin, an Eastman retiree, is spearheading the carousel project now and is one of four local volunteers who are carving the 35 to 40 wooden animals needed for the carousel. In addition to horses, the carousel will have a menagerie of other animals, Martin said. A lion, giraffe, black bear, river otters, barn owl, raccoon, alpaca, wolf and dragon are all being designed for the project.

"We’re carving the animals now, and it takes 500 to 600 hours to finish one. Nine animals are being carved now, and we hope to have it up and running in about four years," Martin said.

People got a chance to see the four woodcarvers in action on Friday, as they demonstrated their work at the Factory Direct Furniture store on Broad Street throughout the day.

Kingsport has partnered with Bud Ellis of Soddy-Daisy — a master carver who led efforts to build two carousels in Chattanooga (Coolidge Park and the zoo). Ellis operates the Horsin’ Around Woodcarving School. In addition, five carvers who worked with Ellis have volunteered to carve animals for the Kingsport project.

Kingsport has also established a carousel committee to oversee the project, and the group is working to establish a Friends of the Kingsport Carousel nonprofit organization, which could raise funds for the project.

The carousel group researched a frame located in Knoxville, but it was much larger than originally thought, was missing several key parts, and was not free. Martin said Kingsport’s carousel will probably date back to the 1950s and be a refurbished machine with the newly carved wooden animals.

Many carousels today have fiberglass or aluminum animals. The closest one to our area can be found at Dollywood. A new carousel in the size Kingsport is wanting costs about $750,000, Martin said.

"We hope to make it a lot cheaper than that and raise the money from the community," he said.

Eventually, the group would like to see Kingsport’s carousel also include a band organ.

At one point the city talked about putting the carousel in one of the old Holliston Mills buildings beside the Kingsport Farmers Market, but the latest renovation proposal for the market calls for that building to be demolished. Martin said the Lynn View Community Center is a possible location, and a Leadership Kingsport Team has picked the aquatic center as its top choice, with the Kingsport Riverwalk area being its second.

"Either location would be tremendous," Martin said. "We want to put this one in an indoor environment, with some party rooms, snack bar or a restaurant so we could operate it year round and protect the equipment and wood animals from the environment."

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The Kingsport Carousel Project