Rotary Ferris Wheel Season Starts Sunday

By Jeremy Coumbes on June 1, 2024 at 2:48pm

A Jacksonville icon returns to action this weekend.

The Jacksonville Rotary Club opens its 2024 summer schedule for rides on the Big Eli Ferris Wheel Number 17 on Sunday. Ferris Wheel Committee Chair Gina Hayes says the Rotary has maintained the wheel at its current location in Community Park for more than thirty years.

Big Eli is open for rides that are free to the public each Sunday during the summer season. The rides are free thanks to business sponsors that help support operation of the wheel.

Hayes says the sponsorship and free will donations by riders is what allows the club to keep Big Eli Number 17 spinning each year. “The wheel requires quite a bit of maintenance each year and we also have to pay to get it licensed along with just general upkeep. So the money that we raise through sponsorships and donations goes towards preserving the wheel and saving for upcoming expenses.”

As the name implies, Big Eli Number 17 is the 17th wheel made by W. E. Sullivan’s Big Eli Bridge Company in Jacksonville. It was constructed in 1907 and traveled the country before returning home to Jacksonville in the 1950s when the Rotary Club purchased the wheel and ran it at Nichols Park until 1985.

Hayes says it is a labor of love for the group to keep the 117-year-old wheel operating for the community at large to enjoy. “It’s very much an icon of our community. We get a lot of people out each Sunday, it’s so much fun, it’s family-friendly and it’s all ages. Kids do need to be thirty-six inches tall or taller to ride. We get young kids, we get older people, we even get people coming from other states so it really is a special place.”

Hayes says the group will also continue to open the wheel for rides during special events throughout the season. This month the wheel will be running during the Summerfest and Health Fair on Wednesday, June 12th, and again on the following Wednesday when Big Eli Number 17 will be running during the annual Jacksonville Juneteenth Celebration on June 19th.

The Jacksonville Rotary Big Eli Ferris Wheel Number 17 is open for free rides every Sunday from 4 to 6 pm. For more information on the Rotary Club of Jacksonville, go to the Rotary Club of Jacksonville Number 3227 on Facebook.