Many friends of the Paragon Carousel know its inspiring history. Despite fires in its home in Paragon Park, hurricanes, blizzards, and an auction, this piece of the American landscape remains with us.
What folks may not know is that the history of the nonprofit Friends of the Paragon Carousel also is remarkable. After Judeth Van Hamm organized an effort to save the carousel at the 1985 by convincing three local businesspeople to purchase it, the carousel operated for 10 years until it was acquired by the Friends in 1996, 25 years ago. This volunteer army has cared for South Shore’s beloved carousel and has dedicated itself to fulfilling the mission of preserving and restoring the last grand carousel built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Co. in 1928.
The history of the Friends is one of peaks and valleys, as chronicled below:
August 1995: The impending sale of the Paragon Carousel was announced. A small group, which grew and grew, started a grassroots funding campaign. Judeth Van Hamm led the charge (again). From August to November, $170,000 in donations was raised.
January 1996: The group had two months to secure funding; the deadline quickly approached. In January, the agreement to purchase was signed with a price of $1.1 million, the highest price paid for any carousel. The Copeland Family Foundation gave a gift of $100,000. Two bank loans, in addition to a $150,000 loan from the Hull Redevelopment Authority, helped close the gap. Then the Hull selectmen arranged a $200,000 state grant. With small personal loans from the owners and a slight reduction in price, the deal was completed. Approximately $500,000 had been secured in a spectacularly short period of time.
March 1996: A business plan was created. A staggering debt of $600,000 remained.
U.S. Rep. Gerry Studds ushered the application of the nonprofit corporation through the federal government. Listed as board members were: Van Hamm, as president; Stephen Avakian, vice president; John Alongi, treasurer; Susan Fleck, clerk; along with Ed Kane, Janet Sandler-Katzeff, and Jim O’Brien. The Friends of the Paragon Carousel was in business.
1997: The nonprofit group began leasing the Clock Tower building adjacent to the carousel for $1 per year from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation. The building’s potential was enormous, as it had historical significance and revenue-generating possibilities.
Season of 1997: Excitement met reality. The business failed to meet projections of the initial plan. The season had a late start. A hurricane shut down the operation. Changes are made in board membership. However, the belief held that all would learn, and non-stop fundraising efforts continued.
Winter 1997: Susan Fleck was named as president of the FPC, with Bill Wiseman treasurer. They would remain for a decade.
1999: The Paragon Carousel was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
2002: The success of the new commemorative brick program helped pay for a new roof on the carousel building.
2007: Five years later, at the end of 2007, the economy suffered an economic downturn. This, along with leadership vacancies, brought the FPC into survival mode.
Spring 2008: Bankruptcy threatened. Bills were unpaid, and a debt of $400,000
faced a new group of volunteers. The likelihood of reopening the carousel was slim. Digging into their own pockets, members of the board paid the insurance bills and created a plan to open with a volunteer army. Dennis Zaia, under the watchful eye of Interim President Carl Katzeff, led the charge this time, with more than 200 volunteers.
April 2008: Board members manned the cash registers, opened gates, took tickets, and operated the carousel. A group of volunteers cleaned the creamery to reopen its windows. The 81st season of the Paragon Carousel began.
2009: An unsolicited invitation to compete in Partners in Preservation efforts to preserve historical sites in Massachusetts was accepted. Friends from all over the nation showed their emotional connections to the Paragon Carousel, and, remarkably, Hull’s Grand Carousel won the popular vote and $100,000 from American Express. The Friends were able to take down the steel “garage” doors and replace them with replicas of the original wooden doors. New windows bathed the carousel and its horses in light. The Paragon Carousel was rejuvenated and began a new lease on life.
2010: An expanded board of directors created a sustainable budget. The creamery was reinvented for the new season. The board reconnected with the Copeland Family Foundation, and an annual gift of $10,000 began.
2011: The Hull Redevelopment Authority refinanced the 1996 loan from 7 percent to 13 years at 3 percent interest.
2012: The Paragon Park Museum opened after two years of planning and research. The museum tells the story of Old Nantasket in addition to the history of the park from 1905-1984. The Restoration Studio of James Hardison opened for public viewing.
2013: The Adopt-A Horse Program began. It now brings in much-needed financial assistance during the off season, in addition to continuing restoration during the winter months. To date, 50 of the 66 horses have been restored. Restoration of the two rare Roman Chariots is now complete.
2014: The organization began its seven-year quest for the renewal of the long-term lease of the Clock Tower Building, which would expire in 2016.
2016: Governor Baker signed legislation allowing a new lease to the FPC.
2017: The FPC received a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council for a physical needs assessment of the Clock Tower Building to begin a systems replacement plan.
2018: The systems replacement plan to begin the renovation of the 1923 Clock Tower Building is complete. The cost of the 20-year plan is approximately $1 million.
2018: The HRA suspended monthly loan payments from January through May when operations resume. FPC invested the money into roof repairs.
October 2018: The DCR and the FPC entered into a partnership to renovate the bathrooms in the Clock Tower Building. To date, the DCR has not commenced the project. The FPC contributed $18,300 to the partnership.
2018-2019: The town of Hull approved the Community Preservation Committee recommendation to award the FPC funding to re-stucco the carousel building.
2019: The FPC received a lease agreement from the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance and the DCR as landlord. The lease is now in the final stages of completion. The Friends have received support and assistance from all local politicians.
2019-2020: The Community Preservation Committee approved the recommendation to the town to award the FPC funding to refinish the floor of the carousel building and to weather-strip the doors.
2020: The Friends received a matching grant from the Massachusetts Facilities Fund and MassDevelopment for $120,000 to begin the first stage of renovation of the Clock Tower ($240,000). The FPC began a capital campaign to match this grant. The Friends have until May 2022 to reach the goal.
2020-2021: The Community Preservation Committee awarded funding to the FPC to repair and re-install the railing surrounding the Paragon Carousel.
2021: The Hull Redevelopment Authority voted to forgive the remaining debt of the 1996 loan.
2021: The balance of bank loan with Hingham Institute for Savings is now $88,000.
The Present: The 2020 season was shortened considerably due to the pandemic. With the help and generosity of so many of our supporters, the Friends were able to get through the winter.
The Friends applied for and received two forgivable loans from the federal Payroll Protection Plan, which allowed for the 2021 opening and the continuing operation until Labor Day 2021. The community preservation projects are in the final stages. Because of unexpected repairs during these projects, we were left with no funds this year to paint the carousel’s exterior and the eaves and replace and reglaze the broken window panes. The Friends are now working on a plan to make that happen. We ended the season with a congratulatory letter from the National Carousel Association because the Paragon Carousel has been chosen for a 2021 NCA Historic Award.
As you can see from our history, our 25-year ride has been a roller coaster. We now prepare for Season 94 with anticipation for a return to normalcy, but also with sadness as we say good-bye to our superbly capable director of operations, Jim Callahan, as he prepares for a new chapter of his life in Delaware.
Thank you, Jim, for your seven dedicated years and your passion for the Paragon Carousel, the Clock Tower building, and the mission.
As our long history attests, carousel horses are not just made of wood. They are painted with memories.
For information on how you can contribute to the Friends of the Paragon Carousel, visit www.paragoncarousel.com. Contributions are tax-deductible, and your continued support will help make the next 25 years a smooth ride for the historic merry-go-round.