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Glen Echo Proves that DC is More Than The White House

Real Estate Agent with Keller Williams Capital Properties DC AB15253

DC is filled with lots of little neighborhoods and communities, both in the city and outside. Like other parts of America, the DC metro area reflect the history of our country as it has evolved over the last 200 plus years. Washington is more than the White House and whichever administration is here.

One of my favorite communities is Glen Echo, a very small town of 125 houses in Montgomery County just over the District line along the Potomac river.  Glen Echo began in 1889 when two brothers, Edward and Edwin Baltzley, bought land along the Potomac River from the Walhonding Road area to Cabin John Creek and named it Glen Echo on the Potomac. They imagined stone castles on this property and nicknamed it  "The Washington Rhine."  They opened five quarries to provide the stone for the castles that they hoped people would build there. (One of the quarries is still operating on Seven Locks Road.)

The Baltzley brothers were truly entrepeneurs! Their investment in Glen Echo came from money that Edwin had made on the invention of a better mechanical eggbeater which reversed direction halfway through each turn of the crank. The brothers sold the eggbeater patent and factory in 1888 and began investing in real estate.

One of the first houses built there in 1887 was a lovely Victorian home at 5446 Mohican Road which was on the market several years ago for $2.5 million.  Mohican Road winds through wooded lots and grand homes to the top of a hill to the house, known among local residents as the Kimmel Castle.

Renovated and updated in 1989, the home has several additions and a separate, two-story, 1,750-square-foot guesthouse on the landscaped grounds. The additions incorporate key elements from the original home, including red slate roofing, floors that match the original chestnut and complementary window designs.

Transportion is always one of the first issues to be addressed developing a new community, and Glen Echo was no exception.  The Baltzley brothers founded the Glen Echo railroad to bring customers to their new community - a little line that ran along the river, and now is part of a much loved bike path.

Initially property in Glen Echo sold well. The brothers built a wonderful restaurant called Pa-taw-o-meck Cafe. Celebrating the Victorian back to nature movement, the brothers constructed their new pleasure palace with 30,000 cedar logs, opening it in July 1890. Tragically the restaurant burned to the ground just four months after it opened, never to be rebuilt.  Shortly after that, rumors of malaria began and sales faded away.

With their real estate empire fading, the Baltzleys redirected their energies and aligned themselves with the emerging Chautauqua movement.

The Chautauqua was an educational mvoement that tried to unify the Protestant churches by bringing people together for classes, discussions, physical activty, and entertainment. The movement began in 1874 with the first Chautuaqua assembly at Lake Chautauqua, NY. The Baltzley brothers gave 80 acres of their land to the National Chautuaqua of Glen Echo, which became the 53rd Chautauqua Assembly.

More buidings were constructed, a curriculum set, lecturers hired, and the Chautauqua opened in June 1891. It was a great success with 300 to 400 people staying for the summer, living in tents and picnicking in the park.

The Chautauqua attracted many scholars and social leaders. Clara Barton built a house in Glen Echo for the Red Cross headquarters in 1891.   She lived in the house until her death in 1912 at the age of 90. The house is now owned and managed by the National Park Service, as the first site in the National Park Service dedicated to a woman's memory.

The first Chautauqua 's success was not repeated. In the spring of 1892, there was another outbreak of fever, and rumors of malaria began to spread again. The Chautauqua was doomed.  but the Baltzley brothers did not quit. In the following years they rented the property to various fund raising organizations for various events such as  concerts and recitals.

In 1899, the Baltzleys rented the park to the Glen Echo Company who put in a merry go round, a bowling alley, a band pavilion, and picnic grounds. Hard times in 1903 finally took the property from the brothers, as Alonzo Shaw of Coney Island came in to manage the park. He installed the first ferris wheel and a roller coaster.

The Washington Railway and Electric Company became the new owner in 1911 and the Glen Echo Amusement Park began to thrive. Each year a new amusement opened at the park. These included the Crystal Pool, a swimming pool, the Spanish Ballroom for dancing, the Midway, the carousel, a dodgem, skeeball alleys and shooting galleries, a penny arcade, the Pretzel, the Whip, the Coaster Dips, and the Flying Scooter.  Up through the post WWII years the park was very successful and popular.

Eventually attendance began to wane in the 1950s as theme parks like Disneyland emerged. The park began to deteriorate and eventually closed in 1968. It sat empty for a number of years, its wonderful bumper car pavillion broken, the Crystal Pool broken, and the Spanish Ballroom hauntingly empty. 

One of the first attractions to be restored was a carousel made by the Dentzel Company of Philadelphia, installed in the park in 1921. When the park was closed in 1968, the carousel was sold to a Virginia collector but local residents became concerned that the carousel would be sold piecemeal. In 1970 the people of Glen Echo raised $80,000 to purchase the carousel and restore it. Today it still runs and is the only carousel of its age and quality that has remained in its original location. It has been loved by generations of Washingtonians.

Just listen to the squeals of joy!  


Glen Echo Park was transferred to the US Government in 1970 and became part of the Department of Interior, administered by the National Park Service. Over the years parts of the park have been restored and it is now a center for learning and entertainment. Classes are offered in painting and ceramics, sculpture, and photography. There are dances at the Spanish Ballroom again 

a nature center and a children's theater. 

The town of Glen Echo is composed of 125 homes, an assortment of classic arts and crafts charmers, Sears bungalows, colonials. The streets are named for universities like Wellesley, Princeton, and Oxford. The small town hall and US Post Office share a lovely white clapboard building.  Recent sales included a 1953 arts and crafts reproduction home for $780,000 and a cape cod overlooking the park for $785,000.

This is a home recently sold. 

If you want a perfect small town feel or you know anyone who would love this charming and very historic neighborhood just minutes from downtown Washington, please send them my way. I welcome your referrals!

Janice Roosevelt
Keller Williams Brandywine Valley - West Chester, PA
OICP ABR, ePRO,Ecobroker

This was just facinating. I lvoe the DC areas as my parents have lived in no VA for more than 30 years and my son went to GWU so I've gotten to know many of the ocmmunites. This is not one I knew so I appreciate the post.

Feb 02, 2009 11:03 PM
Donna Baltzley Anderson

I am a descendant of Edward and Edwin Baltzley and found this article very interesting.  Thank you.

Sep 28, 2010 03:35 AM