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October 2004
Mansfield, Ohio

    This is the story of an aging Midwest industrial city and how it was changed—some would even say saved—by a brand new old-fashioned carousel.  

    You’ll encounter Mansfield on I-71 between Cleveland and Columbus. Three exits announce its presence: 169, 173, and 176. Mansfield is the largest city in this region and has a history as a manufacturing center. Westinghouse Electric, Tappan Stoves, and Ohio Brass are companies that have had facilities in Mansfield.

    Mansfield is also the site of a great old prison, the Mansfield State Reformatory, that was dedicated in 1886 and modeled after European castles. It’s closed now as a prison but has found a second career as a movie star. Hollywood loves the building and it has appeared in several films, including the Shawshank Redemption–mostly shot on location in Mansfield. Today, the prison proudly bills itself as one of the scariest places in the nation.

    But our story is about carousels. In a rather unlikely series of events, Mansfield has found itself at the center of the merry-go-round world.

    It all started in the not very distant past, 1990, when the community installed the first new all-wooden carousel built in the United States since 1930. It’s a full-sized merry-go-round featuring 52 carved animals and 2 chariots and is placed in a pavilion downtown so it can operate year round.  It was built right in Mansfield, in a building across the street from where the carousel is today.

    There isn’t anything resembling an amusement park—the customary home of a carousel—in the area, so what’s it doing here in Mansfield?

    Before the carousel, Mansfield’s downtown was kind of a mess. Like many communities, the businesses and the people had deserted the center city, and it featured many old, decaying buildings. Downtown was an area mothers warned children to stay away from.

    The Mansfield City Council hit upon an idea: Why not do something dramatic to bring folks back downtown? Why not something that everybody likes and that all kinds of people have nostalgic feelings for? What about a carousel? Well, why not?

    The city sought out someone who could build a new carousel and located a company in Connecticut. They invited that company to come to Mansfield for this project, and so Carousel Works made its way out to Ohio. Then the city tore down a number of old decrepit buildings to make room for the new carousel. And they set up a space in a building downtown for the company to do its work.

    Now, by this time people were becoming interested in this project and wanted to have a look at the work in progress. So Carousel Works allowed people to wander through, to watch this almost-lost art come alive again. And in the process many people found themselves in downtown Mansfield who hadn’t been there in quite a while.

    When the carousel was complete and installed, it created quite a stir–everybody wanted to see it; everybody wanted a ride. As local resident Linda Rivers put it, “The carousel for many of us has a real nostalgic feel to it and memories and so we ride that and kind of regain those memories and that’s great fun. Anytime you see our carousel running, you’ll see senior citizens, you’ll see people of all ages. And of course kids just plain love it.”

    With this project successfully completed, Carousel Works decided to stay in Mansfield, and they moved their facilities to a building on the edge of town. But Mansfield had gotten kind of used to having a merry-go-round factory downtown. It seemed like something was missing. So the city went out to try to find yet another carousel company.

    After about a year of searching, they came upon Carousel Magic, then located in Rexburg, Idaho. They offered them a deal to come to Mansfield, moving lock stock and barrel, setting up shop downtown, and offering tours. Carousel Magic took the city up on their offer.

    So now there are two carousel companies in Mansfield—one originally from Connecticut and the other from Idaho. It turns out that these are the only two companies in the nation that carve and restore wooden carousel horses. There are also individual artisans who do the work, but Carousel Works and Carousel Magic are the only actual businesses that produce wooden carousel animals.

    Today, if you wander through downtown Mansfield, you’ll find new shops and restaurants. Youll see people of all ages wandering through the streets. And you’ll notice that the area has been proudly named as the Carousel District. People have come back downtown, drawn by the timeless appeal of a merry-go-round and a certain passion it ignites.

    Linda Rivers noted, As you come to see the carousel, you need to really look at it as it’s going around. You’ll see lots of wonderful details and art. It is art. A carousel is a huge chunk of art.

For more about Mansfield and its surrounding communities, see the cassette for
I-71 South: Cleveland to Mansfield, OH or the CD for I-71 South: Cleveland to Columbus, OH or I-71 North: Columbus to Cleveland, OH.

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