Ferry County Fair Carousel
Ride a country fair merry-go-round at the Ferry County Fairgrounds and experience the golden age of carousels….
In 1958 a group of local ranchers cosigned a $2000.00 loan to purchase a portable Country Fair style carousel, with 24 hand-carved horses, that they’d located in Tacoma, Washington. They carried it back to Republic, Washington in the back of a wheat truck, where it quickly became a favorite attraction at the annual Ferry County Fair.
The traveling carnival merry-go-round (popularized in the late 19th century) was built by the Armitage-Herschell Company between 1895-1900. According to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, “between 2,000 and 3,000 carousels were produced in the U.S. during its “golden age” of wooden carousels” (late 1880s – to early 1930s). Of those, the National Carousel Association’s 2000 Census lists only 208 as still operational in the United States and Canada. Thanks to a handful of farsighted ranchers, one of those century-old carousels is now located at the Ferry County Fairgrounds. There are only two carousels in Eastern Washington State.
Because Armitage-Herschell horses are known for their very simple lines, carousel experts believe two of the carousel horses were carved by Charles W. F. Dare, a noted carousel manufacturer of the 1900’s. Dare horses have a distinctly different style, featuring an arched neck and head, and a martingale breastplate. All of the horses were originally mounted on a track steam machine as indicated by their belly mounts. The machine that now runs the carousel was built by Hatfield Engineering in 1935, when the entire machine was converted to the jumping mechanism that exists today.
Though the carousel received an Art Deco makeover in the 1950’s (including neon lights and metal rounding boards) and a repainting after its arrival in Ferry County, its full restoration didn’t begin until 1993. At that time, a group of concerned citizens approached the county for help in protecting and restoring the aging carousel. Their work with county officials resulted in the county agreeing never to sell the merry-go-round, and the formation of the Merry-Go-Round Friends Committee to oversee carousel fundraising and restoration efforts.
Through the generosity of local pioneer families and families with a long history of supporting the Ferry County Fair, the committee was able to raise nearly half of it’s initial fundraising goal of $30,000 ($1,000 for each horse, and $6000 for machinery and facade) within a year. In the process of sponsoring and naming their horse, families also shared family stories which were featured in Merry-Go-Round Friends newsletters.
In addition to cash contributions, local woodcarvers, painters, and artists donated thousands of hours of labor, painstakingly stripping, sanding, spackling, and painting each horse, as well as carving new joints. Assisting them in their efforts were carousel enthusiasts from around the country, some who trained local artists in the art of carousel carving and painting, and some who worked on horses shipped to them. When work on the horses was complete, artists gave the entire machine a face-lift, painting scenery on the carousel’s back panels and rounding boards, fixing machinery, grooming horse tails, and tooling new leather.
In 1995, the National Carousel Association Annual Convention visited Republic on its tour of northwest carousels and donated $2000 to the preservation project. Later that year, a new committee was formed to spearhead the construction of a building to house the merry-go-round. Once again, the community came together to build an attractive 5500 square foot block building that not only protects the antique carousel from the elements, but also provides the county with a spacious meeting facility ideal for business gatherings, birthday parties, family reunions, class reunions, and wedding receptions.
The facility was paid for with private and public funds, grants, and donated materials and labor. A $160,000 grant from the Washington State Capital Projects Fund was met by a $130,000 grant from Ferry County. Echo Bay Mining Company and Foundation Northwest donated $10,000 each. The National Carousel Association (dedicated to the preservation of antique carousels) donated a total of $6500. Merry-Go-Round Friends raised approximately $80,000 through private donations and sponsorships. The Curlew Job Corps provided much of the labor as part of their building-trades classes. And when the construction schedule fell behind due to flooding at the fair grounds, crews from Fairweather Masonry of Seattle and Stan Fairweather Construction of Colville donated a week of labor to complete the building’s masonry.
For more information and photos, visit the National Carousel Association’s page devoted to the Ferry County Carousel.
The Ferry County Fairground is located three miles northeast of Republic, Washington. Take Hwy. 20 east of Republic approximately 1 mile.
14 Lawson Way , Republic, WA, 99166
- Ferry County Fair Carousel Web page
- National Carousel Association – 2000 Census
- Spokane’s famous Looff Carrousel
- Rexburg Idaho’s Centennial Carousel
FerryCounty.com wishes to acknowledge Nancy Morris, Chair Merry-go-round Friends, for providing much of the historical and restoration information used in this article.
Updated August 10, 2010.