North Tonawanda's Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum is only a twenty-five minute drive from the Niagara Falls border, and here you will discover a real treat - one of 350 antique hand-carved carousels that still operate in North America. Samantha Chavanne, the museum's educator explained to me and my wife Ellen that the museum is located in the original 1915 factory where carousels were created by Allan Herschell. She said, "Once you step inside the building you stride into history. Although we no longer make carousels here anymore, we do restore original Herschell Carrousels."
When you enter the attraction, you find original 1919 photographs hanging on walls nearby where they were taken. A self-guided tour explains that apprentice carvers worked on cutting out the rough outline of the animals (most were horses); journeymen carved out the bodies; and master carvers were responsible for carving the heads and completing the fine details of the animals once all parts were assembled. Check out the displays of the restored wooden horses and a few cows and one pig
carved at the factory.
We found it captivating that an original Wurlitzer Roll band organ, manufactured in North Tonawanda supplied the music for this completely restored and operating carousel. We experienced the carousel's magic and we were both young again.
This carousel was one of the first three produced by the factory. Your admission fee of $6 for an adult, $5.00 for a senior (65 plus) and children 2-16 years are $3.00 includes one ride on the carousel. Each additional ride is 50 cents. The museum is open noon until 4pm daily. Another Kiddie-land Carrousel from the 1940's caters to toddlers and children to the age of thirteen.
Niagara residents might find it intriguing to learn part of the original Little Dipper found in Crystal Beach (the rest is in storage in the basement) is on display in the museum.
In Tonawanda, travel to the nearby historic downtown (parking is free) and seek out the beautifully restored 1926 Riviera Theatre, 67 Webster Street. Step inside the lobby and be awed. Gary Rouleau, Director of Development for the theatre said, "Our other grand star, besides the theatre, is our Mighty WurliTzer Pipe Organ." I had the chance to "play" this gorgeous instrument. I learned this pipe organ provided the music (and sound effects) for earlier silent movies and vaudeville acts. It was a real thrill to imagine the thousands of people who have been entertained and continue to be entertained by this organ in this lovely theatre.
Along the wide historic street, you will find entertaining stores like antique shops, an ice-cream parlour, the North Tonawanda History Museum and you can even talk to a psychic in one shop on the street.
On our way back home we discovered two captivating thrift stores on Payne Street. The Salvation Army and nearby Goodwill Stores had fabulous deals. Ellen was able to buy 15 hard covered books for a dollar each. I scooped up a number of hard covered children's books for 25 cents each for my grandchildren. Remember, No Jumping on the Bed?
If you arrive in North Tonawanda on a Saturday morning, visit the City Market which was established in 1908. It's the oldest Farmers Market in Niagara County with over 70 farmers' caterings to lots of eager customers.
If you want to get in touch with your inner child but don't want to make the trip into the United States the Lakeside Park Carousel in Port Dalhousie is now open Saturday and Sundays from 10 am until 9 pm. and daily from June 10th to September 1st. One ride still costs only five cents and parking is free.
George Bailey contributes to Sun Media's 43 paid-circulation newspapers across Canada as well as numerous magazines. George has appeared on CNN, Good Morning America, Canada AM, the Discovery Channel, and Live with Regis and Cathy Lee. He has published five books on Niagara Falls.