Coolidge Park Carousel caretaker
In July of 1999, hundreds of Chattanoogans descended upon Coolidge Park to be some of the first to ride the Scenic City’s newest tourist attraction.
An 1894 Dentzel carousel centered the North Shore’s Coolidge Park. The antique carousel was restored by local master wood carver Bud Ellis and a devoted team of craftspeople and volunteers at his studio 'Horsin’ Around' located near Chattanooga.
To this day, the carousel provides a delightful, old-fashioned experience with 52 whimsical hand-carved animals, a calliope band organ and ornate between gold leaf benches.
The responsibility of maintaining this Chattanooga icon now rests in the hands of Larry Ridge. Larry is now the owner and operator of ‘Horsin’ Around’ in Soddy-Daisy.
“We've been in business since 1985," says Ridge. “Bud Ellis started this school in St. Elmo, and then we made our way out to Soddy-Daisy."
Larry has a great appreciation for everything and everyone who came together to make the Coolidge Park Carousel a reality.
"If you go down and look at the animals down there, about 75 percent of the people that carved those animals had never carved before,” he says. “They were nurses, accountants, doctors, teachers...all kinds of different business people, but they weren't carvers that came to the party. Most of them just wanted to get involved in a wonderful project. So they started from zero. That was their learning curve."
In addition to his carousel responsibilities, Larry runs a carving school at his shop on Dayton Boulevard. People from around the country come to his building to learn how to carve and create a piece of art. Larry also rehabilitates works of wooden art that people ship him from all corners of the world.
But part of the reason Larry takes such ownership of the Coolidge Park Carousel is because he understands the artwork created by himself and all of the volunteers will outlast those who created them.
"If you look at the floor around all of the animals, there's a little bronze plaque. It has the name of the carver, the name of the sponsor and that'll be there for the next hundred years," Larry says. "So my wish is that my great-grandchildren can come down there and look at mine and see my name on the floor and know that's part of their family heritage."