Binghamton is the Carousel Capital of the World. But, that’s not even the story. The story isn’t that all six of the area’s treasured antiques are on the state Registry of Historic Places as well as the national Historic Places Registry, although that’s pretty cool. The story is how they got here.
Endicott-Johnson Shoe Co. Co-Founder George F. Johnson was a big believer in employee benefits. In fact, he offered employees of his massive corporation health insurance, a forward-thinking concept at the time.
“He thought that it was really important to someone’s well-being to be happy and healthy,” Visit Binghamton Director and lifelong area resident Judi Hess says. “He built hospitals, he built the parks in the area, he actually built homes for some of his workers. Just to help them have a better quality of life. He was always giving back to his employees and the community,” she says.
When he gifted the first carousel in 1919, it was really a gift for the children. Most of his workforce was made up of immigrants with large families. “When they were donated by the Johnson family, that was a stipulation – that they always be free,” Hess says. “Kids today are now enjoying what children 100 years ago enjoyed. It’s pretty incredible to have that kind of history behind them.”
In more “modern” times, the carousel at Recreation Park inspired an early episode of The Twilight Zone. Creator Rod Serling was a Binghamton native.
Today, Binghamton and the neighboring town of Union each have two antique carousels while nearby Endicott and Johnson City (named for the Johnson family) each have one. They are all lovingly restored and maintained. They also remain very popular as just one of many family-friendly attractions in Greater Binghamton.
“When the carousels are open in the summertime, you’ve got a really good chance of catching one of our festivals,” Hess says. “There is music almost every single night and a lot of our theaters do family-friendly shows. We’re a family-friendly community and these carousels are just the icing on the cake.”