Buffalo Heritage Carousel: What Goes Around Comes Around

By Nancy J. Parisi

Published on | Last Updated

Buffalo’s waterfront has a new attraction on the Canalside boardwalk – a huge, instant hit that is delighting merrymakers of all ages. Buffalo Heritage Carousel opened after much anticipation at the start of summer in 2021, marking the beginning of a new era of family fun along the water’s edge.

Visible from quite a distance across the great lawn of Canalside, as well as from the Buffalo River, the hand-carved wooden animals, chariots, brass poles, complete with lively organ music, is a commanding presence. Even its music arches back historically while using new technology: an antique Wurlitzer Carousel Band Organ plays music scrolls powered by a computer. 

The octagonal roundhouse building, topped with a cupola, is built of durable Douglas fir, a North American native tree. Its sides feature large windows top to bottom letting in natural light and showing off thousands of small white energy-efficient lightbulbs illuminating its vintage charm.

Tesla solar panels keep the menagerie running smoothly in an eco-friendly, sustainable way. A control panel near the carousel on a wall not far from what is referred to as the “Lead Horse” (he’s regal and remains unrestored, showing the intensive work done by specialists and volunteers on his nearby, working counterparts), reports – in real time – kilowatt energy created by the waterfront sunshine, and stored and expressed by the solar panel technology on the roof.

The carousel, which will celebrate its centenary in 2024, spins Mondays & Wednesdays thru Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. All rides cost $1 for children and adults.

The Buffalo Heritage Carousel menagerie was meticulously restored for four years, once it returned to its place of origin – nearby North Tonawanda. All of the wooden components were stripped down to bare wood, and broken areas were replaced by hand-carved pieces matching the original work. As needed, colorful glass jewels were replaced in some of the horses’ bridles. The horses’ eyes (as well as those of the ostrich, lion, tiger, deer, giraffe, Sal the Erie Canal Mule, and Sea Dragon) were painted with expressions that are strangely fantastical yet lifelike.

Storybook magic is woven throughout the carousel’s history. It was hand-carved by artisans in North Tonawanda – approximately 14 miles from where it is now sited – at Spillman Engineering Corporation. That local company, founded in the 19th-century, has a complicated history of mergers, splits, and moves while creating carousel components non-stop. It was built a few blocks from where it was restored, in a large, airy space at Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum on Thompson Street.

In 1925 amusement park entrepreneur Domenick De Angelis commissioned what is now the Buffalo Heritage Carousel to operate at a park in Massachusetts. He operated the carousel until 1952, the year of his death. Incredibly, the De Angelis family stored the carousel animals underneath their home for 36 years; in 1988, the menagerie was moved to Ohio where it languished until the Buffalo Heritage Carousel, Inc. acquisition. 

Families, couples, and groups of friends have been spotted enjoying the vintage fun of the carousel. Embellish a Buffalo Heritage Carousel visit with a boardwalk stroll, or a walk to a number of other nearby attractions.

Another kid-sanctioned favorite is a short hop, skip and jump away: Explore & More Children’s Museum, teeming with interactive installations. A whirling ride on the carousel may be three minutes long, but a visit to this attraction and its neighbors is easily a fun, full day.

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Nancy J. Parisi headshot

Nancy J. Parisi

Nancy is a social documentation photographer based in Buffalo, NY.