Carousel returning to Walnut Beach: Ribbon cutting will be July 4

A carousel is coming back to Walnut Beach.

For many years there was a carousel at Walnut Beach, and residents working to bring that part of the city's history back are smiling. Several city groups and an amusement ride owner have come to an agreement, and a carousel is in the process of being set up in the beach parking lot.

A ribbon cutting ceremony is scheduled for July 4 at 10 a.m. at the beach. It will be the official opening of the merry-go-round ride, according to Susan Patrick, a member of the Walnut Beach Arts & Business Association.

The association spurred the idea and the Park, Beach and Recreation Commission OK'd the concept, pending an acceptable contract between the city and the carousel vendor.

Amusement rides at the beach date back to the 1900s, according to the city history book “Sand in Our Shoes.”

A merry-go-round was located in a large building called the Barn, at the end of Naugatuck Avenue on the beach; there may have been a roller coaster not far from it, the book states.

The hurricane of 1938 devastated the area, and many of the rides were destroyed. But people still went to the amusement park until the 1940s. That's when attendance started to dwindle.

“A merry-go-round fire seemed to be the death knell for our little park,” the book states.

But in the 1950s, beach residents Frank and Les Smith leased the property from the Stowe family, installed a new merry-go-round, and refurbished some of the rides, the skating rink and some stands. The beach was once again home to amusement rides, until redevelopment brought an end to the park.

George Whitham, whose family owned the original amusement park, recalled in “Sand in Our Shoes” that his two favorite features were the penny arcade and the merry-go-round.

The latest carousel will be at the beach July 4 through Labor Day. Patrick said the city’s recreation commission will gauge public approval of it and decide if it will return next year. The Walnut Beach Arts & Business Association will seek feedback on a Walnut Beach carousel Facebook page.