I count this among my happiest — and most surprising — research discoveries. While looking over a photocopy of the 1902 Sanborn insurance map at the Provincetown Public Library, my eye was caught by the great big circle outline at 165 Commercial Street. My heart skipped a beat when I saw it was labeled “Merry-go-round.” Who knew? For at least a brief time at the turn of the 20th century, Provincetown had a steam-powered beachfront carousel with a diameter of 40-plus feet. That would have made it larger than the famous Flying Horses Carousel on Martha’s Vineyard, which is 36 feet in diameter. The curious panhandle you see on the insurance map leads to the steam boiler that provided traction for the rotating platform and, undoubtedly, the lungs for a steam organ.
The merry-go-round was constructed behind the blacksmith shop of William H. “Harry” Herbolt, who was born in the 1840s in Nova Scotia, before its confederation with Canada. He ran the amusement as a sideline, working with his wife, Joan Freeman (Loring) Herbolt (1845-1932).
On the face of it, a blacksmith’s yard seems like a mighty odd place to put a carousel, until one remembers the abutting Grozier Park. The broad open lawn of the park would have offered pedestrians and park-goers a stunning — and enticing — view of the carousel. It attracted more than youngsters.
“In those days,” a columnist for The Advocate recalled in 1943, “there wasn’t much a fellow could do when he was courting a girl except hire a buggy or take her down to the merry-go-round. That’s what most of them would do, and ride from dusk to ‘long about a little after 9, when nice girls were off the streets and in their homes.”¹
The carousel was mentioned in The Yarmouth Register between 1895 and 1903, the historian Denise Avallon said. She shared a clipping from 17 July 1897:
“Herbolt’s merry-go-round is going around merrily. The crowd on the ground where the concern is run this season — at the rear of the dwelling of the proprietor — Monday, was very large and the receipts pleasingly remunerative. Some new pieces of music have been added to the large collection already owned by Herbolt, and the dummy [steam engine?] has a glossier black cuticle [paint job?] than ever before. A little office has been erected close beside the ring, and here Mrs. Herbolt dispenses tickets, and takes in the nickels and dimes. Success to Herbolt and his merry-go-round.”
“It must have been portable,” Avallon wrote, “because it moved around and was in Orleans during Labor Days. In 1903, it went to Newport, and he moved the building which housed it. It must have been time for something new. His steam organ was impressive. That must be the music-maker. It must have been loud, like the Tea Dance.”²
Herbolt sold the property in 1906 to Edward A. Todd. The merry-go-round and blacksmith shop would have been demolished shortly thereafter, if they hadn’t already been razed when Herbolt disposed of the land.
Detail of the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Provincetown, Barnstable County, Massachusetts, for 1902. From the Library of Congress Geography and Map Division, Digital Id g3764pm.g038261902.
I’ve imposed a cotton-candy pink cylinder and cone on Walker’s Bird’s-Eye View of Provincetown (1910) to show how visible a merry-go-round would have been from Grozier Park. However, this composite is an anachronism, since William H. Herbolt’s blacksmith shop had been replaced by 1910 with the Todd house (now the Sandpiper Condominium). The base map comes from the Boston Public Library, Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, Call No. G3764.P78A3 1910. W3.
¶ Last updated 21 July 2020.
165 Commercial Street on the Town Map.
Also at 165 Commercial Street:
• Sandpiper Condominium.
Thumbnail image: From the 1902 street atlas, cited above.
• Joan Freeman (Loring) Herbolt (1845-1932)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 60646863.
¹ “To Fellows and Friends Afar and Abroad,” The Provincetown Advocate, 15 July 1943, Page 1.
² Denise Avallon comment to David W. Dunlap in My Provincetown Memorabilia Collection on Facebook, 21 July 2020.