It was started by two brothers, Edward and Edwin Baltzley. It began as a real estate investment, and it became the assembly site of the Washington D.C. Chapter of the Chautauqua Assembly. Structures were erected. ‘Glen Echo on the Potomac’ was born. The name was later shortened to Glen Echo Park. Through the years, it became an entertainment venue and then evolved into an amusement park. There were bumper cars, a carousel, a roller coaster, a swimming pool, a dance hall and an amphitheater. For those who lived in the nation’s capital, it was a great escape. It began to decline in the 1960’s, and the park closed in 1968.
Today, the National Park Service owns the park. (They took control in 1970.) The structures except for the amphitheater remain. (The amphitheater is in ruins with little of it remaining.) The rides except for the carousel, are gone. (The carousel operates in the warmer months.) Only the façade of the pool remains. The buildings that once housed a bowling alley and popcorn stand now houses art studios, a museum and a puppet theater. The ballroom still hosts dances. A trip to Glen Echo Park is a trip through time.
Now some of you are saying, “What a really neat place. There is probably a lot of history here. It is kind of like the Coney Island of Washington D.C. The problem is that there are no railroads here. Therefore, you will not see me here as I do not find this place amusing.”
You are right. This is just a historic park. There is no railroad here… but that was not always the case.
In the beginning, Glen Echo was a simple getaway from Washington D.C. There was very little development as you see today. People came here to ride the bumper cars. They came to ride the carousel. They came to relax by or take a dip into the Crystal Pool. They came to ride the rides. They came here to enjoy the entertainment and to have fun.
But how did they get here?
When the Baltzley Brother established Glen Echo Park, also established the Glen Echo Railroad, a trolley line that ran between the park and Washington D.C. In 1903, the Washington Railway took over the trolley line and the park. The era of the ‘trolley park’ was born when trolleys brought people from the inner cities to the amusement parks outside the city. Through the years, the trolley line changed names, but the passengers were thrilled to ride the trolley to and from the park. Through the 1950’s and the 1960’s, the streetcars in Washington D.C. went into decline, and trolley service ceased… and it was the end of the trolley ride to Glen Echo Park.
Today, as you enter the park from the main parking lot, you cross the bridge over Minnehaha Creek. You can see the old trolley bridge that remains intact. (It is part of a bike trail.) You continue into the park and look upon the old carousel. To the left you will see a stone tower which now houses artist studios. You walk through what was the original entry point to the park. You look down and see the old streetcar tracks. The parking lot that is before you were built on the old trolley line. To the right the came from the city, and they offloaded from the trolley into the park. You walk forward and turn around to see the Glen Echo Park sign that still welcomes people to the park today. This is Glen Echo Park.
Glen Echo Park is owned by the National Park Service which controls the museum and the carousel, but the art studios, ballroom, theater, classes and the ballroom is operated but the Glen Echo Park Partnership for Arts and Culture. It is located at 7300 MacArthur Boulevard in Glen Echo, Maryland. Admission to the park is free, but programs, theater and dances may charge admission. There is plenty of parking. You can learn more about the park itself at https://glenechopark.org/ and at www.nps.gov/glec.
Take a journey to Glen Echo Park. Take a journey today, and go back in time.