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Day 162: Glen Echo Park – Amusing Bethesda & DC Since 1891

The old trolley and Art Deco Entrance

Over 400,000 people a year visit Glen Echo Park and enjoy the opportunity to take in dance and art classes, festivals and educational programs of all kinds.  Once the area’s premier amusement park, Glen Echo Park has a diverse and interesting history that continues through to this day.

The area began in 1891 as an arts and education colony – the National Chautauqua Assembly – featuring band concerts and exciting speakers every night of the week except Sundays.  According to William Offutt’s Bethesda, A Social History, “by 1893 concerts echoed through the trees at Glen Echo [Park] almost every summer weekend.”  Because it was situated at the terminus of the trolley line, Glen Echo Park became a destination for the upper crust of D.C.  The vaudeville shows were a hot ticket as were operas and other social events.  In the summer of 1899, a band pavilion, bowling alley and the merry-go-round were installed and the area became an even more popular destination attracting crowds numbering in the thousands.  In the early 1900’s, roller coasters were installed (much to the chagrin of area residents such as Clara Barton).  On any given summer day you could find as many as 5,000 people visiting the park.

The entrance to the Crystal Pool

In the 1930’s, in addition to its roller coasters, merry-go-round, popcorn and cotton candy concessions, hall of mirrors, chain-pulled boats through the Tunnel of Love and dance hall, the Park added the Crystal Pool!  Measuring 150 X 250 feet the pool was a huge attraction with a diving pool, two swimming areas, a wading pool and a sand beach plus a huge locker room.  Bethesda residents spent entire summers at Glen Echo Park enjoying the delights of what was called “The Cleanest Park in America in 1940.”  The art deco entrance to the park was added in 1940 near the trolley tracks and remains there today.

Two World Wars, the Great Depression and the civil rights movement hit the area hard and there are many personal and public stories detailing events that changed the face of the Park and the community as a result of these challenging times.  In 1971, it became a National Park and is the only amusement park preserved by the National Parks system.  Today, Glen Echo Park is preserved through the combined efforts of the National Park Service and Montgomery County.  Together, in 2002, they formed the Glen Echo Partnership for Arts and Culture as a non-profit organization that manages the programs and facilities of the Park and preserves its natural history.

Picnic area and Carousel

This rich and fascinating historical site is definitely worth a visit for a day, for a weekend or regularly for the many activities it offers.  Because it has such a rich program and history, we will feature a different part of the park each day this week on Bethesda365.com.

We also encourage you to stop by the Park on a Saturday or Sunday at 2 PM and enjoy a 45-minute park tour to better appreciate the rich background and diverse array of current-day programs and events that are offered there.  The tour meets at the Visitor’s Center.  Or just stop by some time and have a picnic, walk the grounds and take a ride on the very quaint old carousel.

The park is located at 7300 MacArthur Blvd in Glen Echo, Maryland right on the border of Bethesda and D.C.  For more information visit their website at www.glenechopark.org.    ~Amy

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