By Patrick Johnson
It doesn't matter if you are young or old, when you visit the Salem Riverfront Carousel your face will light up.
Whether it's the awe of seeing something so classic, the old-time music playing or just the awe of realizing how much work went into creating one of the few hand-made rides in the country - something will catch your eye.
"That's the best part of this job," said Marie Bradford, executive director for the Salem Riverfront Carousel. "When someone walks in for the first time and looks just in awe of what we have here, it makes this very rewarding. When kids come in and they see it they can't wait to ride, when seniors come in it almost seems like they are transported back to their childhood."
This year, Bradford expects more than a 275,000 people to take a ride on the carousel, which has been in operation since June 2, 2001.
Depending on what time of year is your favorite, the carousel caters to each season. During the summer months the building's sliding glass doors are opened to let in cool breeze from the Willamette River. During the holiday season, the carousel is enclosed - and heated - and decorated for the holidays. Many events take place during the holiday season, from breakfast with Santa to hot cocoa and rides with Santa. The carousel is also available for parties and events.
Bradford said she was very proud of the fact that the carousel is a true old-fashioned carousel - with wooden hand-crafted horses - not fiberglass or composite that are found in other carousels.
"This place really was a labor of love and vision," she said. "The entire community helped make this place be created and they continue to support it to keep it operating. It really is amazing."
About the carousel: Just blocks from the Oregon State Capitol on the banks of the Willamette River, the Salem Riverfront Carousel is a must-see for those interested in old-fashioned entertainment. With a classic band organ playing music from a by-gone era and hand-crafted horses, the carousel is fun for young and old alike.
What to bring: The carousel operates inside a building which is opened up in the summer and enclosed in the winter - so seasonally appropriate clothing is best. Remember your camera, with flash, but if you forget, disposable cameras are offered in the carousel's gift shop.
Season: Open every day except for Thanksgiving.
Winter hours (October - March): Monday - Thursday: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Summer hours (April - September): Monday - Thursday: 10 a.m. to7 p.m.; Friday and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Getting there: The Salem Riverfront Carousel is located at 101 Front Street NE, Salem. If you are traveling South on Interstate 5 North of Keizer, take the Salem Parkway Exit (Exit 260A). Stay in the right hand lanes and take a right on Front St (99E Business). Travel on Front Street approximately five blocks, turn right into the parking lot. (State Street is the cross street).
If you are traveling North on Interstate 5 South of Salem, take the Santiam Hwy Exit (Exit 253) and head west on Mission Street. Follow Mission Street to Liberty Street. Turn right on Liberty Street to Ferry Street. Turn left on Ferry Street and follow it around as it turns into Front Street. The entrance to Salem's Riverfront Carousel will be a left turn at the first traffic signal (State Street).
Fees: $1.50 per ride.
Tips: While many tourist attractions offer gift shops, the Salem Riverfront Carousel's gift shop is truly unique. While all of the carving and painting of the horses for the carousel is done, volunteers still labor in a workshop inside the gift shop. They make hand-crafted Christmas tree ornaments, toys and other wooden treasures. The sales from the gift shop go to help support the carousel, which is a non-profit organization.
When visiting the carousel keep in mind it is located in the center of Salem's downtown within walking distance of Salem Riverfront Park, A.C. Gilbert's Discovery Village (a children's interactive museum), the Eco-Earth World Globe, Salem's sternwheeler "The Willamette Queen," and downtown Salem.
History: The carousel was the dream of Hazel Patton, a Salem woman who rode the carousel in Missoula, Montana in 1995, and knew that it was something that could be done in Salem. Over the course of four and a half years, more than 160 volunteers donated more than 80,000 hours and not only was the carousel created, but has been very successful. According to executive director Marie Bradford, the carousel is visited by more and more people every year.
More information: For more information about the carousel call them at 503-540-0374.
Story and photos by Patrick Johnson, a free-lance writer based in Canby, OR.