HAMPTON — Many museums place their most important artifacts in cases or enclosures to protect them from the elements and visitors. Imagine going to a museum that not only allows you to take a hands-on approach to exhibits, but encourages you to do so.
That’s one of the draws of the historic Hampton Carousel.
“What makes it unique (is) a lot of times with artifacts, we don’t let people touch them,” said Luci Cochran, the executive director of the Hampton History Museum, which runs the attraction that is housed in a weather-protected pavilion at 602 Settlers Landing Road in downtown Hampton. “But this is something you actually get to ride.”
The wooden carousel was built in 1920 by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company at a time when merry-go-rounds were at the height of popularity. According to the Hampton History Museum, there are about 180 such carousels left in the United States, including fewer than 75 built by the company based in Germantown, Pennsylvania.
“There are not that many left. Ours is identified as No. 50 (on its center pole),” Cochran said.
What sets this carousel apart is the artwork of its 48 horses and two chariots. They were hand-carved by renowned woodworkers Frank Carretta and Daniel C. Muller, and painted by European artists. The details are so precise it’s easy to see veins in the necks and legs of the horses.
The carousel also features 42 oil paintings and 30 mirrors, many of which are the original works of art.
“Some of the paintings on (the carousel), because they were getting worn and we didn’t want them to degrade anymore, they’re in our collection,” Cochran said. “So some of the paintings are actually replaced with reproductions, but they look just like the originals.”
Another highlight of the attraction is its Bruder Band Organ.
“It’s very loud,” Cochran said, adding it used to run on a paper coil, similar to a player piano. “We actually don’t use them anymore because they’re too fragile. They’re artifacts so we (also) have those in our collection.”
They use a CD for the sound, but it’s still authentic carousel music.
The carousel was at Buckroe Amusement Park, where Buckroe Beach Park is now, from 1920-1985. After the amusement park closed, the carousel was in storage for three years, then sent to Connecticut to be restored.
In 1991, it was moved to the enclosed pavilion where it sits now.
The Hampton History Museum has been operating the carousel since 2016.
In the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016, there were 18,287 visitors. The following year, there were 19,054. Final numbers aren’t in for this year, but Cochran said they had more than 18,000 through May.
She’s confident this year’s number would top last year’s.
“It’s refocusing attention on an underutilized asset,” Cochran said. “This is really a work of art.”
Hours of operation:
Summer (May-August) Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m. – 8 p.m., closed Mondays; winter (April, September-December) Tuesday-Sunday, 10 am – 5 p.m., closed Mondays.
It costs $1 per ride. Tickets are on sale at the Hampton History Museum and at the Hampton Carousel. For information, call the Hampton Visitor Center at 757-727-1102 or visit here.