Goodnight Raleigh - a look at the art, architecture, history, and people of the city at night

Chavis Park and the No. 2 Special Three Abreast

Chavis Park carousel today, photo by John Morris

Having lived in Raleigh for about ten years now, I feel sheepish to admit that my first visit to Chavis Park occurred about a week ago. Originally conceived as part of the Works Progress Administration, the Park opened in 1937 during segregation for Raleigh’s African American citizens. Named after John Chavis, a prominent black preacher and teacher alive in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the Park provided a destination spot for black families from all over the state.

Easily accessible from Martin Luther King Blvd., the 37-acre park is equipped with a swimming pool for the summer, tennis courts, baseball diamonds, picnic areas, a playground, expanses of fields for soccer and other sports, and of course, the original Chavis Park Carousel.

Showing Allan Herschell Co., photo by John Morris

Officially referred to as the “No. 2, Special Three Abreast, Allan Herschell Carousel,” the Chavis Park Carousel stands as one of Raleigh’s two Carousels registered with the National Carousel Association. Created by the Allan Herschell Company of North Tonawanda, New York, the Chavis Park Carousel was built sometime between 1916 and 1925 and installed at its current location in Chavis Park on July 2, 1937.

Photo of Chavis Park and the Carousel (before the wooden housing) from the late 1930s, with a view of the bathhouse on the left. Photo used with permission from, and thanks to: SPERNA Preservation and History Education Program and Lemuel Delaney

Chavis Park Carousel

Photo of the Carousel from 1959, including the wooden housing that was installed in the early 1940s. Photo used with permission from, and thanks to: SPERNA Preservation and History Education Program, Raleigh City Museum, and James Autry

According to the Landmark Designation Report for the carousel, the Herschell Company catalogue describes this model as:

Thirty-six hand-carved horses (outer row studded with jewels) and two beautifully carved double-seat Chariots. Passenger capacity 48 persons. All horses are jumpers. Horse Hanger pipe and platform hanger pipe is encased in polished Brass. The Cornice, Shields and panel Picture Center are highly decorated works of art and are wired for 196 lights. Oil paintings and hand carvings combine with bright colors to produce a beautiful and practical machine. Standard equipment includes: Wurlitzer Military Band Organ with Drums and Cymbals…

Top of the carousel, photo by John Morris

In 1982 the Carousel was carefully restored to the tune of $145,000 at the supervision of a Raleigh-based carousel conservator, Rosa Ragan.

Carousel detail, photo by John Morris

Since the 1970s, Chavis Park has grown to be a point of controversy for Raleigh citizens. The first round of renovations which occurred in the 70s came at the expense of several key elements to the Park. The Olympic-sized swimming pool was downgraded to a smaller pool and the adjoining bathhouse removed entirely.

Photo of the Olympic-sized swimming pool and accompanying bathhouse. Photo used with permission from, and thanks to: SPERNA Preservation and History Education Program and Lemuel Delaney

Photo of the miniature train which was removed in the 1970s renovation. A similar train still resides in Pullen Park. Photo used with permission from, and thanks to: SPERNA Preservation and History Education Program, Raleigh City Museum, and James Autry

Despite the City of Raleigh soliciting a Master Plan in 1994 for the second renovation of Chavis Park (prepared by Edward D. Stone Jr., and Associates from Durham, NC), a lack of funding and prioritization has caused multiple delays, much to the chagrin of the neighboring residents. According to the City of Raleigh website, the funding that is available is currently going toward a scientific study to assess the community’s desires regarding renovation of the park, and the proposed relocation of the Carousel to a more centralized position within the park.

While the City of Raleigh works to understand the desires of the surrounding community, local residents have spoken out time and again regarding the need for upgrades and better facilities, as well as leaving the Carousel in its original location. Currently, there are no restroom facilities or water fountains – seemingly standard amenities for a City park.

In a push to gain recognition for both the history of Raleigh and Chavis Park, while providing “an opportunity for public art to amplify citizens’ voices and increase dialogue,” the Raleigh Arts Commission featured “Cellphone Diaries” as part of the Block2 Street Video Series. Compiled by Assistant Professor Kofi Boone from the NC State College of Design, the digital video installation features 58 videos created by seventeen members of South and East Raleigh using smartphones to record their connection to Chavis Park.

While this installation was slated to end on January 14th, I did happen to see it still running on the 15th. Regardless, if you missed the installation, there is a test-map featuring some of the videos, which gives you an idea of the project.

Tickets to ride the Carousel are only $1, and the Carousel is open most of the summer. For specific hours, check the City of Raleigh website.

References and Further Reading:

More Photos of the Carousel:

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