Glen Echo’s history, amusement still evident today

Geet Jeswani, special to

WASHINGTON – Surrounded by the Potomac River, the Capital Beltway, Bethesda, Md., and the most northwest corners of the District, sits one of the Washington area’s most historic parks: Glen Echo.

The park, which is managed by the National Park Service, is filled with creeks, an abandoned railway and curious trails.

But it didn’t always use to be that way.

National Park Service Ranger Zach Gardner says what is now Glen Echo was originally destined to be a suburb in the 1890s — the time period when streetcars began to sweep the country.

“(Then owner) Edwin Baltzley wanted to take advantage of (the streetcars) by building a series of suburban communities in the middle of nowhere,” Gardner says.

However, the planned community did not work out, and the land changed ownership multiple times.

After the credit crunch of 1893, Baltzley foreclosed and sold the land to the Washington Electric Contraction Company in 1897. At the time, WECC was responsible for streetcars. To ensure customers kept riding the rails, the company came up with a plan: build an amusement park — a destination to which people could ride the streetcars.


Today, Glen Echo’s history as an amusement park is still evident. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)

“The streetcar companies built these amusement parks, and the Washington Contraction Company built one at Glen Echo. (It was) far enough removed from the city that the real estate didn’t have a great deal of value and close enough to the city so that the streetcar could earn a lot of money,” Gardner says.

This idea was a success for the company. Records show up to 25,000 customers visited the park each weekend.

Today, Glen Echo’s history as an amusement park is still evident, with a pavilion of bumper cars, a carousel and the park’s iconic popcorn stand.

And while the streetcars no longer operate, the tracks are still visible to those open to exploring one of Glen Echo’s more hidden trails, located between the parking lot and MacArthur Boulevard.

The intact railroad bridge floats above nature: creeks and rocks crawl out of its old tunnel. And bricks, decades old, stick out of the ground where a foundation lies and rusted pipes show the basic plumbing of the time — all of it waiting to be rediscovered.

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