I stand in my freshly painted living room, puzzling where to begin. On the floor at my feet are a half-dozen framed pictures and a few artwork reproductions. I selected these pieces for their beauty and for the way they will complement the colors I’ve chosen.
Except for one picture.
Canandaigua, Hold Your Horses. This colorful poster of three carousel horses represents an 11th-hour effort to keep the Roseland carousel in town, even as the rest of Roseland Park was being auctioned off. Canandaigua lost the horses, lost the park, and ultimately lost nearly a third of the north end of the lake to private developers.
People flocked to Roseland in the dwindling summer of 1985 for a final visit to the city’s beloved amusement park. Cottage dwellers stood on docks, listening to the colorful carnival tunes on Labor Day, knowing it would be the last time the music poured out over the reflected lights of Roseland Park.
You might say that closing Roseland broke the city’s heart. I know it broke mine.
The Roseland Carousel
For anyone growing up in the western Finger Lakes through the late ’70s, Roseland was the place to be for a fun-packed summer day. Seabreeze was too far away, and Darien Lake was still a barren field. With Kershaw Park right next door for a refreshing swim and the pier available for drive-up boat traffic, Roseland gave birth to cherished family memories for decades before its demise.
Many would argue that the soul of Roseland was its merry-go-round. Maybe it was the intricacies and sheer volume of sound generated by the band organ. Or the squeals of children as they waved at parents and grandparents. Perhaps it was the mesmerizing lights of the park at night, spilling over the water in shimmering ripples.
For me, it was the horses: the dapple grey, the steed dressed in full military armor, ponies flaunting rose garlands, the zebras, and horses saddled in leopard and mountain lion skins. Forty-two horses were brought to life by master carver Leo Zoeller in 1909 for a modest $1000.
The Roseland carousel was known as PTC #18, the 18th carousel fabricated by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company of Germantown, Pennsylvania. The horses, arranged in three rows, were accompanied by two chariots.
PTC #18 found its first home in Louisville, Kentucky, before being moved to Worcester, Massachusetts and Erie, Pennsylvania. After its travels, it was refurbished in the 1920s and repainted in the brilliant colors of the time. In 1926, it opened at the Long Branch Amusement Park in Syracuse. The carousel continued to run for several years even after the park closed.
When Roseland’s owners spotted PTC #18 in 1941, it was in need of a complete overhaul. The roundhouse leaked and none of the horses were mounted and running. The carousel was purchased for $1,500 and was renovated at Seabreeze before its debut at Roseland two years later.
It was at Roseland that the horses captured the imaginations of generations of park-goers. Rides on the carousel mingled with memories of peanut butter sandwiches by the lake, heart-stopping rides on the roller coaster, and years later, stolen kisses on the cable ride that moved slowly into the dark over the lake.
History of Roseland Park
Roseland’s beginnings were humble. It was built in 1925 on the site of a former farm and slaughterhouse. Up until that time, most amusement parks were built near seashores and were accessible primarily by train. Roseland was strategically located to draw automobile traffic from nearby Route 20. The first attractions were a gas station, hot-dog stand, and a dance pavilion housed in a barn. Early on, Roseland offered a baseball diamond and a beach before Kershaw Park was built.
Shortly after its opening, the first of three carousels was brought to Roseland. At that time, the Ferris wheel was added, plus a Loop-the-Loop and miniature golf course. A second carousel was installed in 1937 with a run of about three years. Then one of the owners saw PTC #18 at Long Branch Park in Syracuse, and a four-decade love affair with the Roseland carousel began.
In the 1940s, another 25 acres were added to the park and more rides were introduced, including a miniature train. In the 1960s, the park changed ownership and the Skyliner was added—the first roller coaster built in New York State in more than 25 years. The ensuing years saw more rides: the Flying Bobs, the Yo-Yo, and the Crazy Splash water slide. At its height, Roseland offered 13 major attractions and seven kiddie rides.
The community embraced Roseland Park for years, never thinking that the economics of promoting a small amusement park might one day lose ground to massive theme parks. When Roseland closed, an era ended. Bone-jarring thrill rides overshadowed the low-key beauty of the park on the lake, and for many, childhood memories were bulldozed into new development.
What Happened to Roseland?
Roseland Park was privately owned and went to auction on September 16, 1985. Most of the items were sold off piecemeal. Only the carousel and the Skyliner remained intact.
The Roseland carousel had a remarkable 43-year run at Roseland Park. As is typical of carousel auctions, every attempt was made to sell the carousel as a single unit. Each horse and component of the carousel was sold separately to a single bidder: James Tuozzolo of Syracuse-based Pyramid Companies. Then the individual bids were tallied, 20 percent added, and the entire carousel re-bid. The carousel sold for a record-breaking $397,500.
It took more than two years and a million dollars to bring the carousel back to its original 1909 appearance. Each horse was repaired, repainted, and varnished by specialized craftsmen. All of the pictures were cleaned and restored, and new oak flooring was installed. Metal gears, jumping poles, electrical components, and vital mechanical items were completely overhauled. To finalize the restoration, the band organ, which had been marginally functional, was completely re-fabricated and re-cast with decorative mirrors, flowers and gold leaf adornment.
The restored carousel made its debut in the Carousel Center mall in October of 1990, where it still runs today.
New Home, Old Memories
You can still visit the carousel, but you can’t revisit Roseland. It’s a blessing that the horses weren’t sold off one by one to collectors. They belong together, chasing one another in a perpetual race. We’re indebted to the investors who saw the value of saving a bit of Canandaigua history.
But seeing the Roseland carousel in a mall is a little like trying to capture the excitement of an amusement park in a music box. The bright colors of the horses are now muted, and the zebras are gone. Carnival music competes with the din of laughing teenagers and cranky toddlers. People come to the mall to shop, and may, on their way to catch a bite, stop a moment to look at an old merry-go-round spinning gaily on the second floor.
Standing on the Canandaigua City Pier today, you can almost picture where the Skyliner rose above the treetops. With a little imagination, you can still hear the siren call of calliope music that signaled the beginning of summer. Close your eyes and that breeze you feel becomes a wild ride on a black pony rearing into the night.
Canandaigua, you may have lost your horses, but you’ll never lose your memories.
by Joy Underhill
Joy Underhill is a freelance writer who lives in Farmington and rode the Roseland carousel during its last month in Canandaigua. She’s grateful for the cooperation of the Ontario County Historical Society and Preston Pierce in researching this article, and to Ben Hall for his contributions.