The Borough of Pottstown is on the cusp of reaching for the brass ring.
Armed with the knowledge of the economic possibilities brought on by tourism, visionary leaders have been working to transform this former industrial center into an attractive and engaging destination.
Toward that end, Pottstown has, over the past few years, welcomed:
- The River of Revolutions Interpretive Center, which continually promotes the Schuylkill River and Trail for recreation purposes.
- Manatawny Green, an 18-hole miniature golf course that challenges putters of all ages with its interesting water features.
- Steel River Playhouse, with an ambitious annual season of plays, concerts and musicals.
- The Brick House, an up-and-coming restaurant serving customers in the architectural splendor of an 1880s bank building.
Joining these powerful draws is the Pottstown Carousel.
After a 13-year odyssey involving significant fundraising, revival of machinery from 1905, the search for a permanent home and hours of painstaking artistic restoration, the attraction is nearing its soft-launch later this year.
Children of all ages - even those of a more advanced age but with a youthful spirit - can support this treasure this weekend. On Sunday, September 13, the 12th Annual Carousel of Flavor lays out an ample spread representing Pottstown's emerging culinary and craft brew scene.
George Wausnock is President of The Carousel at Pottstown, the nonprofit group heading the operation. He led me on a preview tour of this historic amusement.
"I attended an event at Sunnybrook Ballroom," Wausnock says. "And they had brought in a small carousel for the kids to ride. It was outside, and the weather that day wasn't exactly seasonal. But I was struck by the sight of people waiting in line - in the cold - to ride a small carousel. And it got me thinking about the appeal of a ride like this. That was the beginning of what is now The Carousel at Pottstown."
Wausnock allows me to wander through the former Pottstown Metal Weld Building, the center of which is taken up by a huge birthday-cake-shaped platform of animals ready to leap forward. Off to one side, a band organ is midway through its restoration. When completed, it will provide a merry soundtrack.
"Each figure is made of wood," Wausnock explains. "We wanted an authentic carousel experience, meaning no fiberglass animals. The carving alone took 200 hours per horse." An additional 200 to 250 hours were spent on painting.
The craftsmanship is evident. Rows of tigers, lions, giraffes and mighty steeds await giggling, wide-eyed riders.
Above them, ringing the center axis, are children's portraits. Each of these was commissioned by a family whose donations supplied funding. Wausnock's own grandchildren occupy a panel, the result of an artist painting their picture from a photograph he supplied. "I've seen the work of artists costing thousands of dollars that don't look as good as what was provided here for a donation," he says. "So we not only got an excellent picture, but we also got one that will last hopefully for generations."
The outside perimeter of the carousel is also decorated with artwork; these pictures capture some of Pottstown's most identifiable tourism sites, including Pottsgrove Manor and Sunnybrook Ballroom.
Making the Pottstown carousel a true destination has led its leadership to think beyond merely giving the public a chance to ride a vintage amusement. Plans for the space include a trio of party rooms for kids' birthday celebrations, a catering kitchen, a concession stand and even outdoor seating. Further off in the future, organizers hope to connect to the terminal of the Colebrookdale Railroad, especially once the train establishes a station near Manatawny Park. Wausnock envisions a horse-drawn trolley providing transportation to and from the merry go round.
Shorter term, Wausnock predicts a late-December opening for the Pottstown Carousel. If work continues to go exceedingly well, a soft-open is possible by Thanksgiving. And if progress truly races ahead of schedule, rides could begin as early as Halloween.
Admission to the Carousel of Flavor is free; however, to enjoy the menu items, tickets are needed. Each costs $1, and attendees are able to "spend" them in any way they choose. Vendors, music, children's games, art displays, a beer garden and a wine tent are all on the agenda, which runs from noon to 4 p.m., along the 100 Block of High Street, in front of Borough Hall. The celebration is tied to Pottstown's bicentennial, which will be marked by the opening of a time capsule.
Last year, the event attracted more than 6,000 people, so food fans and carousel lovers are encouraged to get there early.