Everyone remembers the childhood fun of riding on a carousel. But did you know that many of those carousels came from North Tonawanda, NY, and specifically the Herschell Carrousel Factory?
Today, that factory is open as the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum in North Tonawanda, about halfway between downtown Buffalo and Niagara Falls.
At one time the Allan Herschell Carrousel Company was the most prominent of four different carousel companies in the town. It is said that 50% of all wooden carousels were built in this Niagara County community.
The Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum is located within the actual factory that used to make these revered pieces of amusement park and carnival history. The factory was constructed between 1910-1915, and many of the pieces on display were made within these walls, which really adds a lot to the museum.
The museum features a wide variety of things to see and do, including two historic carousels that can be ridden, a factory display, a museum of carousel animals and other amusement park rides built in this space, and an outdoor Kiddieland with more working rides.
There is also a nice display of Wurlitzer organs, which were also made in North Tonawanda and were often paired with one of Herschell’s carousels by buyers.
The museum portion of the old factory features a collection of both old carousel horses and other animals, as well as some of the pieces built here for use in other amusement park rides.
I especially enjoyed the collection of wooden carousel animals because of the incredible intricacy in the pieces, each of which was hand-carved and hand-painted. Seeing the work up close is really a neat treat. Plus, many of the pieces also have signs that offer a bit more information about how they were made, which really makes this a great spot for anyone who loves history and art.
Just beyond the main museum display area, you’ll enter into the old factory itself.
There are two large factory areas set up here: one representing the Allan Herschell Carrousel Company and the other a recreation of the Wurlitzer Music Roll Department from their factory in North Tonawanda.
The carousel factory area features many of the pieces of equipment that were used to build the animals that were put onto the rides. I especially enjoyed seeing a few of the partially completed ones, which really gave me a great look into how they were made.
The Wurlitzer side of the room showcases hundreds of self-playing music rolls, which are quite fascinating to see. There are also several rare Wurlitzer’s on display, some of which are in working order.
These large self-playing instruments were often paired with the carousels and created the type of music that everyone associates with these beautiful machines. That makes them a great fit for inclusion in the museum, and it was a really neat surprise to be able to see this factory recreation in the museum.
While I personally loved the static displays the most, many visitors will immediately gravitate towards the museum’s two working carousels. When you visit, every guest is given two tokens to ride these beautiful machines as part of their admission.
The main carousel in the museum is a full-size carousel that is said to have been the very first one built in this factory in 1916. Amazingly, this piece, which was purchased in the 1980s in Ontario, Canada, is the first Herchell carousel to operate in North Tonawanda despite thousands of them having been built in town.
Riding this carousel is not only fun but also feels like stepping back into history. Don’t miss the chance to climb aboard this when you visit.
The Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum is also home to a second historic carousel, though this one is a good deal smaller than the main one. It can be found in the children’s gallery of the museum.
This room is the factory’s former metal shop and now features a variety of fun activities and displays for kids to enjoy. The carousel can also be ridden during your visit and is just as charming and beautiful as the larger one.
If you visit during the warmer months of the year, there is also a really fun-looking area called Kiddieland Testing Park outside of the main museum space. This area includes a variety of historic kid rides, some of which were made in this factory.
Unfortunately, it is closed during the colder months of the year, so I was unable to check it out during my visit, but it definitely gives me a reason to not only go back but also to take my family with me next time.
Overall, the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum is a really fun spot to visit. Whether you check it out simply because you enjoy the history or art of the pieces made here or because you want to ride the carousels and other rides, this is definitely a sport that is worth visiting when exploring Buffalo or Niagara Falls.
Herchell Carrousel Factory Museum
Hours: Wednesday-Saturday: 10a-4p
Cost: Adults: $10, Kids: $5
Address: 180 Thompson St