Inside the Pal’s Roundhouse at the corner of East Center Street and Clinchfield Street downtown, you’ll find a vintage, menagerie-style carousel with more than 30 hand-carved animals ready to take kids on a spin. For just a dollar per ride, children can enjoy the carousel any time of year.
The Kingsport Carousel’s dogs, cats, dragons, tiger, zebras, and of course, horses were hand-carved and hand-painted by over 300 volunteers, making it a true local treasure. The animals sit upon a refurbished 1956 frame made by the Allan Herschell Company, one of the most prolific carousel makers in the country.
Because the frame came from the Beardsley Zoo in Connecticut, which had recently replaced its carousel frame and put the old one in storage, the “rounding panels” featured scenes of the Connecticut coastline. The Carousel leadership team recruited artist Ellen Elmes to design a new set of scenes that would represent Kingsport’s history, and the scenes were painted by volunteers.
More local flair was added when volunteers again went to work painting portraits of 24 colorful birds indigenous to the region, led by JoAnne McDonough.
Each of the animals, chariots, rounding boards, and bird paintings came into existence with the help of sponsors, and Pal and Sharon Barer of Pal’s Sudden Service stepped up to sponsor the creation of the building that houses the carousel—the Pal’s Roundhouse.
In addition to the carousel, the Pal’s Roundhouse also features a gift shop and party room available to rent for birthday parties.
Children under 42 inches tall must be accompanied by a paying adult. Visit the Kingsport Carousel at 350 Clinchfield St. or call 423-343-9834 for more information.
Tickets for the Carousel are available a
Small Party Rentals
During opening hours $100 for 2 hours.
Limited to 20 guests. Unlimited rides for 20 guests. Access to Small Party Room with counter space and sink. Use of 1-8 ft table, and 12 chairs in party room.
Private Party Rentals
We close the doors to the public for your event.
$200 for 2 hours up to 100 people.
Unlimited rides! Access to our Small Party Room with counter space and sink. Access to 50ft hallway for table/chair setup.
*Need more prep time? Make sure to add the extra prep time to your cart at checkout.
350 Clinchfield St,
Kingsport, TN 37660
Last ride at 4:50pm!
Your small party rental includes:
- Starting at $100 you get 2 hours of unlimited rides for your 20 guests during rental times (Operator provided)
- Access to our party room with counter space and sink (accommodates up to 20 people including parents, kids, friends)
- Use 1(one) 8ft table and 12 chairs in party room
Your private rental includes:
- Starting at $200 you get 2 hours of unlimited rides for all of your guests during rental times (Operator provided)
- Access to 50 foot hallway party space for table and chair set up
- Access to our smaller party room with counter space and sink (party prep space)
- Use of on-site tables and chairs during event
- Privacy! We close the doors to the public during these events so it is all yours!
For availability and more information on renting the Kingsport Carousel call (423) 392-8418.
What you need to know:
- Carousel rentals DO NOT INCLUDE any food or decorations.
- Reservations and payment must be made in advance to the “City of Kingsport” at the Kingsport Cultural Arts (located at 1200 E. Center St., Room 224, Kingsport, TN 37660). Full payment is due at time of booking. Credit cards are accepted online.
- Reservations are made in order that they are requested and there are no dates “held.”
- It is the renter’s responsibility to clean up party area to put away any tables or chairs used during the event and sweep. ALL GARBAGE MUST BE PUT IN ONE OF THE LARGE GREEN DUMPSTERS (IN THE BLACK ENCLOSURE IN THE PARKING LOT) AT THE END OF YOUR EVENT.
- Do not attach anything to the walls by using tape, tacks, staples, or nails. Do not hang anything from the ceiling or from the pipes. Decorations can be placed on the tables, floor areas, and counter.
NO SMOKING allowed in the Carousel facility.
NO PETS allowed in the Carousel facility (Official Service Animals allowed).
In 2008, Mr. Joh began a serious inquiry into how to make that dream become reality. With the support of Alderman Tom Parham, Mr. Joh solicited the help of Bonnie Macdonald in the City of Kingsport Cultural Arts office. Gale was also persistent in his efforts to recruit his fellow Kiwanis members to the support of this project.
Through Gale’s research he discovered that Chattanooga, TN, had recently installed two working carousels whose animals had been hand-carved by the “Horsin’ Around Wood Carving Studio” owned by Bud Ellis. Road trip! In April 2009, after at least two snow-canceled efforts – the research team headed to Chattanooga. First stop was the wood carving studio. Mr. Bud Ellis and his merry band of wood carvers could not have been nicer. Taking time to explain the process and show off some of their handiwork, the carvers also provided a tour of both Chattanooga carousels and of course, a ride or two.
It was just one of those things, when we got to the point we needed an electrician, I’d pray for an electrician. Then as folks heard about the project, sure enough an electrician would show up, ready and willing to help.
Certainly the team of researchers on that April 2009 trip fell in love with the idea of a carousel and the artistry of the hand-carved animals, but the quest remained – how would Kingsport get a carousel? Again, Gale was undaunted. He continued to talk about the concept, now armed with a first-hand visit to the Horsin’ Around Wood Carving Studio and fueled by the enthusiasm and joy of those April carousel rides. Bud Ellis was also encouraging and had shared his own experiences with his Carousel story. In Chattanooga, city support came late to the project, so all work was done as resources and enthusiasm of private individuals allowed. Mr. Ellis explained, “It was just one of those things, when we got to the point we needed an electrician, I’d pray for an electrician. Then as folks heard about the project, sure enough an electrician would show up, ready and willing to help.”
Help for the Kingsport Carousel Project arrived in the form of one Reginald Martin. Reggie, as he is now known to all who claim a part in the project, was one of those Kiwanis members Gale Joh had persistently prodded. Mid-summer of 2009, Reggie visited the Office of Cultural Arts to have a chat with Bonnie Macdonald about the project. He seemed to have found the support he needed, so in short order Reggie and Gale had recruited Milton Nelson, George Gibson, and Ted Heilig. About that time the Office of Cultural Arts was awarded a small grant from the Tennessee Arts Commission. Fittingly the category of grant was called “Art Builds Community.” With that small grant, it was possible to enable Bud Ellis to visit Kingsport and speak at a Kiwanis meeting.
The grant also assisted with tuition for the Four Horsemen to attend Bud Ellis’ wood carving school in the spring of 2010. “Assisted” is really a generous term as a majority of the cost of the week in Soddy-Daisy was paid by each of these volunteers. This pay-to-volunteer model is one that has persisted through every stage of the carousel project and may be one factor in the success of the project. As Ted Heilig is quick to point out, “it puts some skin in the game.”
She famously pronounced, “Kingsport will have a carousel when pigs fly.”
Certainly by this point, Kingsport’s Mayor Dennis Phillips had heard a little about the project. Well, maybe more than a little. Gale Joh, whose great ambition it was to establish a carousel in Kingsport, was married to one of Kingsport’s Aldermen, Valerie Joh. As Gale originally explained the concept to Valerie, she wisely pointed out that no funds or enthusiasm currently existed for such a project. She famously pronounced, “Kingsport will have a carousel when pigs fly.” More on that later.
Alderman Valerie Joh was able to report to the mayor and other city leaders the progress of the Horsemen and their efforts. Soon the Mayor convened a group and asked how and for how much would Kingsport get a carousel. Reggie Martin did the homework and somberly reported that it would take $400,000 to buy the complete package. Once again, no available resources meant that Kingsport would have to build their carousel one animal at a time. Well our horsemen were ready to lead the charge and do just that.
So by the fall of 2010, the Carousel horsemen (Reggie, Milton, George, and Ted) had spent a week of their lives carving horse heads. Certainly it could have stopped there. It takes time to carve a carousel animal. Most conservative estimates suggest at least 1,000 hours. A modest carousel such as Kingsport aspired to would require 32 animals and two chariots. If the Kingsport Carousel horsemen had not come back from wood carving school fired up, ready to carve and encourage others… the whole thing would have died right then. Fortunately for the community these carousel leaders had the enthusiasm and energy to persist toward the goal of finishing their animal and recruiting others to do the same. But that’s not all they had to do.
While the spring of 2010 can be considered one of the highlights of the timeline of the Carousel Project, it was also a time of sadness. Mr. Gale Joh passed away after a valiant fight with Lewy Body Dementia. This debilitating disease had not taken hold before Mr. Joh was able to share the enthusiasm and goal for a working carousel in Kingsport. Indeed many who wanted to honor Gale’s legacy made contributions that literally became the foundation of the efforts of hundreds of volunteers.
First order of business for Kingsport’s newly minted horse carvers was to find and establish a place to carve. Kingsport Carousel Project needed a space to set up shop. Poor Milton Nelson was driving around with a horse’s head in the back seat of his car! Several attempts were made to have the carving studio in Kingsport’s burgeoning downtown area. However, with very little resources, free trumps all other possibilities. As fate would have it, the City of Kingsport had just acquired the Lynn View Community Center. Formerly the Lynn View High School, this property had more recently been a private school but was now a facility in need of some serious love! Kingsport Parks and Recreation took on the task of breathing life into the center and quickly invited the carvers to set up shop. As usual, that sounds easier than it was. Paint was scraped off windows. Ragged walls were repaired and white boards installed. Broken floor tiles were repaired and each and every work station was built to order – most of this work done by our amazing Horsemen, who by this time had recruited a few more volunteers.
The Kingsport Carousel Project continued to grow. The annual Farm Expo of January 2011 sponsored by the Kingsport Times-News was certainly a great place to recruit carvers! Many of our talented carvers found their way to the project through this event. The project certainly was gaining momentum. Several animals were under way, carvers were being sent to Soddy-Daisy to be taught by Bud Ellis but many carvers were being taught right here in Kingsport. For both efforts a fee was charged. Carvers understood that the animals they were working on would eventually be gifted to the city as part of the Carousel. The deal with the carvers was that when their animal was sponsored they would receive reimbursement for the instruction fees they paid. This arrangement helped purchase the bass wood from which each animal is carved.
With carvers recruited and animals in production, it was time to turn attention to the frame. A carousel frame is made of the floor, poles, sweeps and rounding boards, gears and electric motor. This is the mechanism that makes the carousel go round and round, up and down. The Horsemen and a newly created committee had been on the lookout for a frame. There are several national magazines that advertise the sale of carousel frames, and Dan Horenberger is a broker who specializes in finding, buying, and selling carousel frames. Early on, the Kingsport Carousel leadership team connected with Dan and had actually considered pursuing several options. There was a frame in Houston about the right size – but transportation from Houston would be challenging and it cost $15,000. Then there was an older and larger frame in Pennsylvania that cost almost $40,000. Once again, those resources were not available, but the team kept researching and talking with Dan. And then came opportunity and serendipity. The Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport, CT, had replaced their frame several years prior and had put the old frame in storage. Well the time had come that the zoo officials were ready to quit paying on the storage and rid themselves of the old frame. They connected with Dan, who had a surplus of inventory due to a market heavily affected by the recent Great Recession. But Dan is a carousel lover and knew the volunteers in Kingsport might make a good connection. Dan redirected the Beardsley Zoo and suggested that Kingsport might be a match.
The winter of 2011 had been a real winter. January and mid-February had seen several measurable snows and there was snow on the ground when Ted and Reggie brought digital images to share with Bonnie. As they looked over images of the meticulously stored frame that was just the right size, Bonnie asked “Do you want it?” and Reggie and Ted agreed, “Yes, let’s get it.” In the back and forth of communication the zoo director had learned more and more about the efforts of the Kingsport Carousel volunteers so that when Reggie indicated an interest in the frame, the zoo director said, “If you’ll come get it, we will give it to you.” Mayor Phillips had been following this quest for a frame so Bonnie promptly informed him of this great opportunity. That afternoon, Reggie and Bonnie met with Mayor Phillips and Tom Still at Still Transfer, a local moving company. Yes, as luck would have it, Still Transfer had a truck in the New York area that would be returning to Kingsport empty. They could pick up the frame. This was Thursday afternoon. The moving truck would be in Connecticut on Saturday. Reggie called Ted and asked him to join him and the next day the two of them drove hours through snowy countryside to get to Bridgeport. On Saturday, the empty truck arrived at the zoo. The zoo staff had actually cleared a tennis court so that the pieces of the carousel frame could be brought out of storage and laid out properly to be put in the moving truck in an orderly fashion. To hear Reggie tell the story, the frame was then loaded onto the truck by all available hands, which on a snowy Saturday in February included the moving truck drivers, Reggie, Ted, zoo maintenance and staff, and a band of boy scouts! Kingsport had a frame! The truck arrived in Kingsport on Tuesday and moved into a makeshift place that has become restoration central made ready by the impromptu but willing efforts of the Kingsport Public Works team.
Carousel work continued throughout 2011 and more carvers were recruited. Painters were also recruited. To enable all who would like to participate, Carousel leadership tapped local artist Suzanne Barrett Justis as lead artist for the animal painting. Suzanne taught groups of volunteers – who paid a class fee – to paint the animals carved by the volunteer carvers. In this way over 50 people have participated in making the carousel a reality through their efforts painting animals and chariots.
The Kingsport Carousel also needed new rounding board panels. The panels from the Beardsley Zoo frame had featured scenes of the nearby Connecticut coastline. The Carousel leadership team recruited artist Ellen Elmes to lay out a new set of scenes that would feature Kingsport regional history up to the year of the Herschell frame’s date of manufacture, 1956. These scenes feature history from Native Americans through westward expansion and industrial development and the nostalgic cruising Broad Street. Twenty-two volunteers paid for classes and instruction and have created what is sure to be another treasure of the carousel project.
The Beardsley Carousel also had 24 clown faces as internal decoration. Certainly clowns have their place, but our carousel team had another idea. Kingsport is a recognized bird sanctuary and recently Rack Cross had actively and successfully promoted the Kingsport Birding Trail and the various locations in Kingsport where the beautiful birds could be spotted. It did not take much arm-twisting to get Rack to give the carousel a list of 24 colorful, indigenous birds that could be a part of the Kingsport Carousel. This time JoAnne McDonough served as lead artist following the pattern laid out by Ellen Elmes. At this writing, almost all bird paintings have been completed by 24 different artists. And they are beautiful!
In 2011, just as the Carousel Project began to gain real momentum, Engage Kingsport Inc., a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit community organization, was established by a group of local residents who cared deeply about arts and culture in Kingsport. These two groups merged as it was decided that Engage Kingsport would take on the Carousel Project as its first big project. The organization works in tandem with the Kingsport Office of Cultural Arts, part of the city of Kingsport, supplying volunteer and financial support and acting as an advisory “friends” group.
The Kingsport Carousel has been blessed by support given when it was needed. This support began with the Tennessee Arts Commission and the Arts Build Communities program. The East Tennessee Foundation and Kingsport Community Foundation both were early and strong advocates for the vision. In order to raise funds for the construction of a building to house the carousel, each of the 32 animals, the two chariots, 24 rounding boards, 24 sweep animals, and 24 bird paintings needed to have a sponsor. The Kingsport community has stepped up to be those sponsors and almost all have their champion. Pal and Sharon Barger have watched the efforts from the beginning and in June 2013 sponsored the Roundhouse itself! The Kingsport community is engaged in the arts!
Each volunteer has a story to share. Alderman Valerie Joh claimed she had never carved a bar of soap but in wanting to be a part of this unlikely project and to honor the vision of her late husband, she set a goal of carving a horse. Her horse evolved into a beautiful white and gold unicorn with its namesake flowering vine “Morning Glory.” A ballerina cat was her next effort. “Sassy” is a Blue Point Siamese, complete with pink tutu and Freed-inspired pointe shoes. Two platform animals done and Alderman Joh kept going. The Kingsport Carousel will be unique in that the sweeps of the carousel (above the animals in the “rafters”) will host 24 smaller hand-carved animals. These sweep animals can be no larger than two feet in any dimension and must fly or climb. There are several birds, two raccoons, one skunk, and others including the two that Alderman Joh has carved! Valerie has also carved another animal. She knew she had to do it. This special animal will be featured atop the Kingsport Carousel’s ticket booth. You guessed it – a flying pig!
The Kingsport Carousel story continues to be written. Volunteers are still needed. Several key sponsorships are still available. For more information, call (423) 392-8418.
Art Builds Communities.