Postcard From Past Glen Echo

Text and photos by Deb Holmes


This stone tower is the only building that dates to the park's one year as a Chautauqua Assembly in 1891. Today the tower houses a bookstore and a gallery for Glen Echo resident artists. In the foreground is one of the park's partially restored buildings, a candy shop.

Although it was an amusement park from 1899 to 1968, Glen Echo's origins were closer to the cultural arts park that it has become today.

Brothers Edwin and Edward Baltzley initially conceived of Glen Echo as a Chautauqua Assembly, part of a national movement which promoted the study of sciences, arts, languages and literature.

Trolleys provided by the Glen Echo Railroad Company brought city dwellers from nearby Washington D.C. to see plays, hear lectures and discuss philosophy and religion.

The park lasted one season as a Chautauqua Assembly. A devastating fire and unfounded rumor of malaria contracted at the park forced the Baltzleys to change business strategies.

The Cuddle Up was a popular amusement park ride. All that remains is its newly restored entrance, with neon sign.

Echoes of the past at Glen Echo: The shooting gallery, now in ruins, and with its machinery exposed.

From 1893 to 1898, the park was rented to a variety organizations. By 1899, the first carousel, a dance pavilion, shooting gallery and arcade nestled in the wooded hillside, providing a refreshing diversion from the muggy summer heat of pre-air conditioned Washington.

By 1906, the park featured such family attractions as a pony track, shooting gallery, boat rides, miniature railroad, dance pavilion, wooden roller coaster, and a "gyroplane," which spun riders around wooden benches attached to tilted arms.

The amusement park's heyday began in the early 1930s, when people flocked here to escape their troubles, if only for an evening, brought on by the Great Depression. Through the 1960s, visitors could play miniature golf, see a distorted version of themselves in the Hall of Mirrors, dance to the music of big bands in the Spanish Ballroom, or sun themselves on the sand beach of Crystal Pool. Remnants of the park's Art Deco period grace the paved walkways today.

The buildings are gradually being restored through a cooperative effort of the National park Service and the non-profit Glen Echo Park Foundation.

The grand Art Deco entrance to the Crystal Pool, awaits restoration. The pool accommodated 3,000 swimmers and included a sandy beach for sunbathing.

The carousel's importance to Glen Echo is evident in this hand-painted mural on the side of the old popcorn stand, with its neon lights now dimmed.

Lawrence Welk and Tommy Dorsey played to capacity crowds of 1,800 in the Spanish Ballroom, built in 1933.

Glen Echo remained a popular destination for dates and family outings through mid-1955. Crowds started to decline after that, as a new generation of thrill parks, spawned by the new Disneyland in California, opened in the area.

The amusement park's last season was in 1968. After that, most of the rides were sold off, and the permanent buildings and land were acquired by the National Parks and Planning Commission.

The prized Dentzel carousel was sold to a Virginia man, who planned to move it to California. A last-minute effort by a group of local citizens raised the $80,000 needed to keep the carousel at Glen Echo. The carousel was then given to the National Parks and Planning Commission under the condition that remain at Glen Echo and be open to the public.

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