The Answer To The Question: Are We Related To The California Carousel Family (Davis)?

In our last blog I noted that we would be blogging about our Davis history in California and specifically San Francisco. The first inquiry to determine was if we are related to the Davis family whose name is on the carousel we were at when we visited our son, his wife and our grandkids. Tilden Park’s Herschell-Spillman Merry-Go-Round is a splendid antique menagerie carousel with hand-carved and beautifully painted wooden carousel animals to ride, and calliope-style music to make any child’s heart sing.

Tilden Park Merry-Go-Round In Berkeley California
Ross R. Davis Sales Agent Of Amusement Devices

LOL. First of all, to think one hundred years ago amusement devices were merry-go-rounds and now they are digital devices. Wow how the world has changed.

But, back to the question. Are we related to this Davis family? Yes, indeed we are. But, before I get into how we are related (for that is quite the interesting story), it is very interesting the story of Ross R. Davis and his Merry-Go-Rounds.

The family of Oliver Funk Davis tells an interesting story about the family beginnings into Merry-Go-Rounds. The Davis family says that Oliver Funk Davis thought he was sick and dying and therefore sold his Everett Pennsylvania lumber business in 1899 and headed to California for better weather. When the carousel would come to town (they had portable ones) he would let his kids take one ride then watch. It was at this moment when he concluded that this would be a good way to make money in California.

Oliver Funk Davis paid $2,100 dollars for the first carousel. Oliver, Ross R. and Howard Davis took the portable carousels up and down the state of California, into the Pacific Northwest and even into Canada between 1900 and 1912. Below is a picture of the early portable Hershel Spillman Carousel.

In 1905 the nineteen-year-old Ross Ruben Davis took a cross country trip to visit family in Pennsylvania, then to see the Hershell Spillman carousel manufacturing operation in Tonawanda, NY, (He and his father O.F. would become representatives for that company) and finally to meet up with one of their portable carousels in San Antonio,Texas in mid-June. He toured the fairs and “picnics” all through central Texas, moving west until he sold that machine in Colorado City, TX and headed back to California in mid-November.

Above is a picture of the Davis family moving the carousel via wagon in the early 1900s.

Interestingly, the historic carousel at Griffith Park in Los Angeles was built in 1926. It was brought to the LA park by the Davis Family in 1937 after operating in Mission Beach, San Diego. The carousel features 68 horses in 4 rows and an elaborate ceiling kit. When it was placed in its new building in 1937, it was just down the road from The Griffith Park Zoo. They built the beautiful building niched into the side of the hill as well. Oliver F., Ross R., and J. O. Davis, were three generations of Davis family.

Legend goes that Walt Disney would spend one day a week (Daddy’s Day) with his daughters where his work in media took backstage to his family time.  The girls and Walt would spend their time together, like many families of that era, taking in the local entertainments.  ‘Together’ was a subjective word.  Walt would sit on the bench while the girls played and rode the amusements.  One of their favorites was the Griffith Park Merry-go-Round.  It is said that here, while sitting on the green wooden benches, Walt dreamed of an amusement park where families could have fun together: a place where parents were not relegated to the benches while they watched their children grow before their eyes; an interactive and inclusive place; a place so much more than the dirty, restrictive amusement parks in the area. A place called Disneyland.

In addition to The Griffith Park Carousel, the Davis family are also responsible for the historic carousels at Balboa Park, San Diego; Tilden Park, Berkeley, CA; and instrumental in placing the carousel in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.

Here are a few pictures of the carousel at Tilden Park in Berkeley California.

Beautiful Wooden Hand Carved And Hand Painted – There are 300 Wooden Carousels (including the animals) in the Country

So how are we related to this Davis family who created such wonderful amusements for early California and the west coast as the century turned?

The Davis line we are married into (the George Davis Line) is brother to this line of Davis clan. Basically, Oliver Funk Davis’s (1859-1926) 5th great grandfather, Nicholas Davis (1627-1672) is in our ancestry tree. Nicholas had numerous children, with one being Nicholas Jr. (1627-1672) whom Oliver Funk Davis is a descendent. Nicholas also had a son George Davis (1616-1667). George Davis Sr. had George Davis Jr. (1660-1753) who’s daughter Sara (born 1708) married John Cunningham (born 1710-1758). John Cunningham’s brother James is the father of Valentine Cunningham. Valentine Cunningham is our third great grandfather and father of Lucinda Cunningham who married our John R. Davis, and lived here in Roane County, TN. John and James’ father was also named James. He was murdered by Indians at the Kerr’s Creek Massacre. Sara Davis’s family was murdered by the Shawnee at Muddy Creek. I have written a blog about these massacres and you can read them again here.

I have posted the graphic below previously in other blogs. But, to bring it up again, the yellow is the Davis line we are talking about. We are connected to it through marriage going up through George Davis to Nicholas. Oliver Funk Davis goes up through George Davis’s brother Nicholas Jr. and both Nicholas Jr. and George have the same father, Nicholas Sr. (1620-1672).

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