If you are a native of the DC area as I am then you may have memories of Glen Echo Park as an amusement park with a creaky wooden roller coaster, huge swimming pool, bumper cars and fantastic carousel. The history of Glen Echo Park goes way beyond the days as a great amusement park. In 1888 two brothers, Edwin and Edward Balztley purchased 516 acres and named it Glen Echo on the Potomac. They compared the location to the Rhine River in Germany and began to build on the property. For many years it was a gathering place for those who wanted to get out of the city and used as an education facility for the Chautauqua Assembly.
As the years went by the Park grew and by 1931 most of the amusement rides were in place and the huge “Crystal Pool.” which could accommodate up to 3000 swimmers was open. By the 1940’s the park was starting to fall on hard times. With the advent of WWII most of the men who were employed by the park were called to active duty. Park attendance continued to fall and by the beginning of the 1960’s the park faced the challenge families moving from the city to the suburbs with more options for entertainment closer to home.
The park closed its doors 1968 with the owners deciding to sell the property to developers who planned to build apartments on the banks of the Potomac River. Fortunately because of the location and land use restrictions the owners instead traded the land to the National Park Service for another piece of property and Glen Echo was saved.
For a few years the park remained in limbo and then it opened again, not as an amusement park but as an arts education facility offering classes for all ages. Unfortunately the buildings, many of them nice examples of the Art Deco Style were falling into disrepair. In cooperation with Montgomery County, MD the National Park Service was able to create a partnership to raise funds to save most of the buildings and restore the antique carousel the centerpiece of the entire park.
Today hundreds of courses are taught every year, including glass arts, dancing, puppetry, photography and painting. For me it has been a round trip from enjoying the Carousel as a child to now being a long time student at the glass school. If you haven’t taken a trip to check out this piece of DC history put it on your plans. Located just off McArthur Blvd and the Clara Barton parkway it is easy to get to and you can also enjoy a walk along the locks of the C&O Canal at the same time.