A decade in the making, Berkshire Carousel holds festive grand opening
Photo Gallery | Berkshire Carousel Grand Opening
PITTSFIELD — It was the culmination of a "journey of smiles," a labor of "true love" and a 10-year undertaking that some volunteers never lived to see completed.
Hundreds of people, young and old, flocked on Friday to the opening of the Berkshire Carousel, a colorful, festive amusement ride on a once-vacant lot at the corner of South Church and Center streets.
Carnival music filled the air and people of all ages took turns riding the 33-horse community art project, the frame for which was built in the 1920s.
Jim Shulman, who founded the project with his wife, Nancy, asked the audience to "close your eyes and remember back to one of your earliest experiences riding a carousel."
It was an experience the older generations all shared.
For many, including Shulman, that came on the former carousel near Pontoosuc Lake.
"This is a beautiful piece of art," Shulman said. "This should be seen as a showcase in the entire state of Massachusetts, if not New England. It is much more than an amusement ride. It is the largest, permanent, volunteer-made art project in all of New England."
Now, younger Pittsfield generations could all have the experience, too.
"It was built without any city tax money, any major donation from any of the industries," Shulman said. "We did get help from the state on the building, a $250,000 matching grant, but this is a project that costs over $3 million. We said we don't want any tax benefits; we want to show that you can do it at the community level and not rely on the taxpayers."
Grand pronouncements by key volunteers — perhaps written years ago — were spoken for the occasion that had finally arrived.
"The main elements we have, as Berkshire Carousel volunteers, are unity and love for what we are doing," said Pittsfield resident Joe Tournier. "It's evident when you walk through those doors. What's in there except true love? That's what did it all. Love for community, the state and, believe me, the world. Because the world is watching us today, as they have been over the last nine years."
Carousel director Maria Caccaviello painted a picture of the project's initial conception.
"It started with Nancy Shulman and Downtown Pittsfield bringing up a little tiny plastic carousel telling everybody sitting at the table, 'My family is bringing a carousel to Pittsfield,'" Caccaviello said. "That's how it all started for me. I thought how amazing, what a gift to our community."
She added, "Not even so much the carousel, but to bring people together with the common goal to bring a gift back to their community."
Shulman conceived of the project 12 years ago, in 2004, and the first carvings began a decade ago, in 2006.
Carving began in a one-car garage on Merrill Road, volunteer Phyllis Kingsley recalled.
"There was hardly any room for us, never mind the horses," Kingsley said.
The workshop would change locations multiple times over the years, locating at the Berkshire Mall, then in Dalton, before finally returning home to the original site.
The Shulmans, now residents of Galena, Ohio, bought the empty property next to the CVS Pharmacy for $400,000, the first of several key donations toward the estimated final cost, pegged between $2.3 million and $2.6 million.
But there were problems with the property, alluded to by Shulman on Friday. An "underground lake" 29-feet below needed to be dealt with before any building could take place. Naysayers, Shulman said, called it a "swamp."
Donations of labor and materials from local contractors and others, in addition to the injection of state money, helped the project continue along.
Since the groundbreaking a year ago, J.H. Maxymillian performed — free of charge — more than $250,000 of site preparation work that included installing the carousel building's foundation.
In February, the carousel began to take shape as an eight-sided steelframe structure housing the merry-go-round. It was erected and eventually enclosed after the restored antique carousel mechanism was installed. Finally, the 33 handcrafted wooden horses, 14 rounding boards, two chariots and donkey were added.
Another Ohio resident and skilled woodworker, Walt Ruess, taught most of the novice carvers how to perform the task at hand.
Longtime volunteer Doug Cowan said, "It's unbelievable the amount of talent that's come forward in Berkshire County," Cowan said.
"This is a big, positive change for the city and all the people who worked on [the carousel]," Ruess said in an interview Friday.
The celebration included an American flag raising and dedication, original, Berkshire Carousel-themed songs by Mike Sacco, food and refreshments.
In all, more than 400 people volunteered time in some capacity, discovering skills they did not know they possessed and bonding with peers.
Kingsley recalled making such a connection with Doug Cowan in the early days of the work.
"Doug and I had each just lost our spouses," Kingsley said. "It gave us something to occupy our time. It was very, very therapeutic, and I think we're all grateful to have played a part."
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