Revitalized Chavis Park carousel spins memories of vibrant past

abaird@newsobserver.com April 20, 2013 

— On a warm Saturday afternoon with puffy clouds rolling overhead, the carousel at Chavis Park officially reopened as more than 100 people showed up to try out the most recent incarnation of a ride that has been around for almost a century.

The carousel was built sometime around 1916 and has been owned by the city since 1937. In recent years it fell into disrepair and was rarely used. Now the city sees it as a focal point that will draw people in, with its new location making it visible from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and bright lights that will shine at night.

Many kids too young to care about the historical significance of the place swirled around the crowd. But plenty of longtime Raleigh residents appreciate the park’s history and remember its heyday. They hope the future will be similar to the days when the park was a cornerstone of the community.

Rhonda Muhammad, a longtime Raleigh resident, is part of a steering committee helping the city decide how to revitalize the park. She said she remembers visiting the park when she was young.

“I have grandkids now,” she said. “I’m excited that they’ll get to play here and enjoy it the way I did. It was so vibrant. There used to be so many events, so many people here all the time. We want it to have that vibrance again. We’re getting there.”

Emily Ander, a park planner for the city, said the project has been a long time coming. She said the city first presented the idea of revitalizing the carousel in 1994, and it took $2 million and a forgettable number of meetings to make it become reality. Next year, the city will unveil a 10-year plan for improvements at Chavis Park, and Ander said the goal is to make sure there are a lot of days like the opening of the new carousel.

“We need feedback, input and involvement from the community throughout the planning process,” Ander said. “For now, it’s exciting to look around and see so many people – all types of people – and so much energy.”

Jonathun Muldrow, 19, is also a member of the 21-person committee helping the city decide how to continue revitalizing the park.

He shared enthusiasm at the turnout and prospects of the park’s future, but he hopes people, especially his age and younger, will learn more about the park’s past.

“There’s a statue of Martin Luther King Jr. right down the street,” Muldrow said. “But so many people don’t even know who John Chavis was or what he looks like.”

Maybe a museum would help people realize the history of Chavis, a free black Presbyterian minister and educator who taught blacks and whites in several North Carolina counties in the early 19th century.

But for now, it’s good to see a step in the right direction, Muldrow said.

Baird: 919-829-4696

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