FORT MYERS, Fla. – The antique carousel entertained kids and families at St. Augustine’s Davenport Park with its painted horses and cheerful calliope music for 25 years is now pleasing a new audience.
Now the restored 1927 carousel has a new home at The Shell Factory & Nature Park in North Fort Myers, where it quietly opened in December.
Leo Syverson, 8, of London, was one of the first kids to take a spin.
"I really liked it,'' he said and grinned. "It went up and down. That was my favorite part.''
His sister, 10-year-old Ellie, said it was fun to ride the carousel. "And the horses are pretty.''
The carousel was donated to the North Fort Myers attraction by local owner Peggy Soules, whose late husband, Jim Soules, operated it in St. Augustine. The couple were regulars at The Shell Factory, said owner Pam Cronin.
"They loved The Shell Factory and they loved the fact that it’s old-fashioned,'' Cronin said. "So the carousel fits in well with what we have here.''
After its last day operating in St. Augustine, the carousel was dismantled in September and shipped to North Fort Myers. Cronin says every Shell Factory employee had a hand in refurbishing the carousel, including sandblasting the horses, repainting them, and installing new floorboards and LED lights.
Executive assistant Christine Forbes painted 19 of the 20 horses herself, and she was still putting finishing touches on them last week.
"It took over three months,'' Forbes says. "We just wanted to get it open. We wanted to get it up and running and get the kids out there.''
The former J&S Carousel opened in St. Augustine in 1994 and became a popular attraction. Hundreds of people showed up for its last day of operation in September.
One of those people, Lisa Henderson, said she had fond memories of riding the carousel with her son years ago.
"I said I better come do this again,'' Henderson told the St. Augustine Record. ``It had a great run. ... We’ve just been so lucky to have it here for a whole generation of children.''
The carousel came to the Soules family after Jim Soules’ brother, circus trapeze artist Gerard Soules, bought it through an ad in a circus magazine, says sister Kathleen Nasrey, of Michigan. At the time, it was being stored in the basement of a museum in Manistique, Michigan.
Before coming to Florida, the carousel had operated at the Fort Wayne Zoo and tourist destination The Wisconsin Dells. Nasrey says the family doesn’t know its history before that.
Built by the C.W. Parker Company, the 36-foot-wide carousel passed to Jim Soules after Gerard was murdered in Las Vegas in 1992, Nasrey says. Jim Soules, a Vietnam War veteran, died on Sept. 5 after years of suffering from Agent Orange exposure.
One of his final wishes was for the carousel to be moved to The Shell Factory to be closer to his wife, Nasrey says. They’d already started making plans to move it when he died.
"He made me promise that everything would be done,'' says Peggy Soules of Port Charlotte. ``He wanted it to be close to me.''
Rides on the carousel are $1 each. Each 1-minute ride spins at 3 mph.
Forbes says she’s excited to see the carousel finally open after all the hard work she and the rest of The Shell Factory team put into restoring it. She has fond memories of riding carousels as a kid.
"It makes you feel good,'' she says. "I just remember the excitement, as a kid, when you got to the carousel and decided which horse you were going to get.
"It’s a fun time. You can’t get on a carousel and not smile.''