HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) – Stay where it is? Relocate downtown? Move it back to Buckroe Beach? You will soon have the chance to weigh in on the future of the historic Hampton Carousel.

Wednesday, an architect hired by the Downtown Hampton Development Partnership (DHDP) laid out four options for City Council to consider when it comes to the antique amusement.

In a long-term strategy first revealed in 2021, DHDP recommended moving the carousel from its decades-long home at Carousel Park in the Hampton Harbor, to Mill Point Park several blocks away. They said this would allow for its current home at Carousel Park to be redeveloped for more green space and allow for the carousel to be better protected from flooding.

The costs of the options range from just over $300,000 to more than $2.8 million.

The four options include:

  • Option 1: Keep in current location next to the Virginia Air & Space Museum and fix-up building – $316,800 cost
  • Option 2: Keep in current location but build new flood-resistant building – $2.5 million
  • Option 3: Relocate to Mill Point Park and build new building – $2.5 million
  • Option 4: Relocate back to Buckroe Beach with new building – $2.8 million

From Virginia Beach to Ocean View in Norfolk to Buckroe Beach on the Peninsula, in the last half of the last century, there were several waterfront amusement parks.

The Hampton Carousel is the last remaining operational link to those days.

Built back in 1920 by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in Germantown, Pennsylvania, it was was used at the Buckroe Beach Amusement Park till it closed in 1985. The carousel has 48 hand-carved wooden horses and two-hand carved wooden chariots.

It was moved and restored at its current location in Carousel Park on Settlers Landing Road in downtown Hampton in 1991 with help from a group called Friends of the Hampton Carousel.

The group raised more than $150,000 of the $380,000 needed to get the carousel back into operation according to an article in the Daily Press at the time. The balance was made up by Hampton and the state.

A year later, the carousel was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It is believed it is one of only 170 functioning antique carousels still in the United States. 

The current Hampton Carousel sits inside a decagon shaped building on S. King Street (WAVY Photo/Brett Hall)

Former mayor Molly Ward, who serves as assistant director for DHDP, said after thirty years Carousel Park is showing its age.

There is little greenspace as much of the park is pavers and susceptible to flooding.

“The park infrastructure is just flat out old,” Ward said. “If you are in front of it you can not see it, you cannot tell what’s in the building.”

Tom Tingle, president of Guernsey Tingle, hired as the architect to analyze the future vision for downtown agreed. He also said sea level rise needs to be considered.

“The ground elevation at the current location is 5-6 feet above sea level,” Tingle said.

The current building floor is more than eight feet above sea level. Tingle said that satisfied requirements when the building was constructed in 1991. However, the requirement for new construction currently is 11 feet above sea level. 

Both Mill Point Park near Eaton Street and Buckroe Beach have ground eight to nine feet above sea level according to Tingle’s analysis.

A rendering of a the Hampton Carousel at Mill Point Park (Courtesy: City of Hampton)

DHDP initially threw their support behind moving the carousel to Mill Point. There Ward said a new building could be constructed to better market “this treasure.”

At the current Carousel Park, there would be more green space, trees to create shade; terraces to help with flooding and step residents down toward the waterfront according to a city release. A pedestrian bridge would connect the Air & Space Science Center side of the inlet with The Landing side, and there would be a floating stage for concerts. Overall, it would be a much larger park and festival site than any other place downtown. 

A building is also in plans. It that would have a market on the first floor, restaurants above, and rooftop seating.

“It is the opportunity the City of Hampton has to make that connection to the river and that river to the businesses,” Tingle said. “We see that as more of an intimate space.”

A rendering of a reimagined Carousel Park (Courtesy: City of Hampton)

Tingle said he consulted with vendors, who told him it would be safe to disassemble the carousel and reassemble it in a new building.

However Brenda Marks, a longtime Hampton resident has doubts. She has started a petition to oppose the move.

“The carousel is fragile.  When it was restored and placed at its current location, it was the intent it remain there,” Marks said. ” For whatever reason, there is serious consideration being given to moving the carousel.  The majority of the public disagrees with a move to Mill Point Park and most disagree with any move at all.”

Council members want to hear the feedback directly from residents.

“We should do something to protect that historic carousel. Leaving it alone is not an option,” Vice Mayor Jimmy Gray said.

The carousel has been closed since June because of repairs needed.

An inspection last summer found major issues with the supporting rods and the poles lifting the horses according to the city. In a press release they said continued operation would likely further damage the carousel and could cause injuries.

“Our intention is to repair it,” City Manager Mary Bunting said. “There’s very few parts and few experts that know how to repair these. Our intention is to repair it as soon as we can.”