ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – The carousel in St. Augustine's Davenport Park that locals describe as a beloved landmark will close Sunday and never reopen, city leaders learned Tuesday.
City Manager John Regan learned that the operator of the J&S Carousel died suddenly Friday and his widow has decided to dismantle the carousel, which has been a St. Augustine landmark since 1992.
“The community was saddened to learn of the passing of Jim Soules last Friday. His carousel, a fixture in Davenport Park for the past 20 years, has become something of a landmark for the community. The attraction is a family-operated business and as such it will be the family’s decision regarding its future,” Regan said in a statement. “The family is aware of options for their legacy to continue and are deeply appreciative of the city and all of the love and outpouring of support from the community.”
The carousel was on San Marco Avenue at San Carlos Avenue, in the same park with the public library on U.S. 1.
Souels' wife, Peggy, told Regan the attraction's last day will be Sunday.
"(He) did it for the love of it, not as a real business model," Regan told News4Jax. "We just learned of this and I think that sad circumstance is on his passing and possibly losing this iconic element of the city."
The city said Sourels had just signed a new, five-year lease of the property to begin Oct. 1. The widow has asked to be released from that lease and the family intends to dismantle the ride.
Peggy Sourels told News4Jax that St. Augustine has been wonderful and thanked everyone for supporting the carousel for 25 years, but she's too old to handle it and plans to "bring the carousel home" to where she lives in Port Charlotte.
"The family needs to focus on their immediate priorities and will get back to the city at an appropriate time," Regan said in his statement.
The city said Regan had expressed the city's desire to continue operation of the carousel, but also asked for the community’s to show respect to the Soules’ family at this time.
“It was a project of love is what we were told," St. Augustine Commissioner Nancy Sikes Kline said of the owner's dedication to keeping the carousel running. "Like a gift."
Reaction to the thought of losing the carousel, which offered $1 kids rides on brightly colored horses that go up and down as calliope music plays, was strong.
Families using the carousel Tuesday were universally disappointed when told it will close.
"We live in Jacksonville now, we came down actually just today to ride the carousel, so it’s very sad news to know that we might be losing the carousel," Matt Lowry said. "Every time my son and I drive by, he yells out, 'There’s the carousel.' He calls the horses 'nay nays,' so he screams out for them."
"I’ve been riding this carousel now for the last four years with numerous different kids," Lauren Corbin said. "I always take the kids here to ride the carousel."
Sikes Kline said she wants city staff to recommend ways to save the carousel.
"I think it is important that we do what we can to find a way to preserve it and perhaps there are some options if we act quickly."