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Couple says they’re ‘open to’ adding controversial carousel

November 24, 2018

LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) — The couple responsible for preserving the Star Barn and other Lancaster County landmarks, relocating them to a property in West Donegal Township, say they’re willing to consider hosting another precious heirloom: The Rocky Springs Carousel.

The ride, which entertained generations of children at Rocky Springs Park for much of the 20th century, has been mothballed since its return to Lancaster in 1999.

Earlier this fall, Mayor Danene Sorace made clear it will not be installed on city-owned property under her administration.

“If the displacement of the carousel from Lancaster city is a final determination,” David and Tierney Abel, proprietors of The Star Barn Village at Stone Gables Estate, wrote in a letter to LNP, “we are open to entertaining the thought of adding this treasured relic to our historical grounds for the public to appreciate.”

The letter only indicates potential interest. Any commitment to take responsibility for the carousel would require a lot of discussion beforehand, the Abels’ spokeswoman Gail Shane said.

The Abels wrote in response to a letter written by Manheim Township resident Craig Lefever, published in LNP earlier this fall.

In it, he suggests that “the couple who bought the Star Barn” could acquire the carousel “as a gift” from the donors who funded its return to Lancaster.


It’s well documented that the pool at Rocky Springs Park was kept off-limits to black people, a practice that led to a lawsuit, protests and boycotts.

But that wasn’t the case at the park’s famous carousel. Older black Lancastrians say it was open to all races, and they loved riding it.

Mayor Danene Sorace cited discrimination at the pool as a reason the carousel should not go on public property at the city. And former City Councilwoman Louise Williams recalls some black residents taking issue at the time with the carousel’s return to Lancaster.

But other black residents see the matter differently. One of them is Nelson Polite Jr., who says he enjoyed riding the carousel as a child.

“It’d be OK if they brought it into the city,” he said. The carousel wasn’t an issue at Rocky Springs, he said: “The pool was the issue.”

Leroy Hopkins, a retired Millersville University professor of German, has fond memories of riding the carousel. He sees no harm in having it in “an appropriate place,” whether on city property or elsewhere. But he’d like there to be signage explaining the history of the carousel and the park and “creating context,” he said.


The carousel, stored at an undisclosed location, is owned by the Rocky Springs Carousel Association, which has been inactive for nearly a decade. The group raised more than $1.3 million to purchase and partially restore the carousel.

Its most recent president is Rob Ecklin; as of last week, there had been no contact between the Abels and him.

The association and then-Mayor Charlie Smithgall planned to install the ride in Lancaster Square. But Smithgall’s successor, Mayor Rick Gray, opposed the idea, and Sorace does, too.

It would not be appropriate to situate the carousel on city property, Sorace said, because of the history of discrimination at the pool at Rocky Springs Park.

The expense and difficulties involved in housing, maintaining and operating the carousel are also an important consideration, city chief of staff Matt Johnson said.

The administration would have no objection to the carousel operating on private property in the city, he said.


The carousel, one of the oldest and finest in the U.S., was crafted at the Philadelphia workshop of pioneering carousel artisan Gustav Dentzel of Philadelphia. His hand-carved animals are acclaimed as masterpieces, and have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece at auctions.

The ride debuted at Rocky Springs Park in the early 1900s, though some of the animals date to 1895. The park closed in the mid-1960s, briefly reopening in 1979 and 1980. After that, the carousel was relocated, first to Lake Lansing Park in Michigan in 1983, then to Dollywood in Tennessee in 1990.

For the carousel to be transferred to a new owner, the association’s board would have to be revived, with a slate of members appointed in order to meet and hold a vote.

According to the group’s bylaws, nine board members are appointed by the mayor and eight by the association membership.

There are still a number of past board members in the area, as well as other people who would be interested in serving, Janet Spleen, the association’s former secretary, said.

They remain deeply invested in the carousel’s fate, eager to ensure it remains intact and in good hands.

“We love the carousel,” she said.





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Information from: LNP, http://lancasteronline.com

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