Thursday, February 26, 2009

Glen Echo Park - Part 1

Glen Echo Park, also known as Glen Echo Amusement Park and Glen Echo Park Historic District, is a public park and national historic district in Glen Echo, Montgomery County, Maryland. Photos are from the 1920's and are part of National Photo Company archive at the Library of Congress.

Glen Echo Park began in 1891 as a National Chautauqua Assembly and operated as an amusement park until 1968. As of 2007, the park hosts an arts education program and is also known for its antique carousel, its Spanish Ballroom, its historic electric street car and its annual Washington Folk Festival.

The park is near to several notable sites such as the Clara Barton house and the C&O canal. Glen Echo used to be a trolley park accessible by the street car system; the park was designed to be the last stop on the cars so people could go there after work.

The original park had several attractions, including bumper cars, shooting galleries, and an expansive rollercoaster. The park also had a large pool, the Crystal Pool, the remains of which can still be seen today, and a shooting gallery, which was stopped in WWII because of ammunition shortages. (Author: REAL BULLETS FOLKS!)

Glen Echo was restricted to whites for 63 out of 70 years of its history. However, on June 30th, 1960 a group of college students (primarily from Howard University) staged a sit-in protest on the carousel and five African American students were subsequently arrested. As a result, an eleven-week civil rights campaign began. The park opened the doors to all races in the 1961 season.

The surrounding community complained about the influx of urban African Americans. As a result, the trolley and bus service to Glen Echo were closed. Without the public transportation link, Glen Echo, like most small suburban amusement parks, closed in 1968.

Since 1971, the park has been under the watch of the National Park Service. Various renovations have taken place throughout the park, most notably the Spanish Ballroom, the Arcade building that now hosts art classes, and the art deco style opening gates.

The Park Carousel, the last operating park ride, and the highlight of the park today, is a 1921 Dentzel three-row menagerie carousel with 38 horses, 2 chariots, 4 rabbits, 4 ostriches, a lion, a tiger, a giraffe, and a prancing deer.

Part 2 of the Glen Echo Amusement Park, Tomorrow.

ADDITIONAL INFO ~ Information provided by Steven Solomon, who is a resident of the neighborhood:

"The surrounding community complained about the influx of urban African Americans. As a result, the trolley and bus service to Glen Echo were closed. Without the public transportation link, Glen Echo, like most small suburban amusement parks, closed in 1968."

That's not accurate - some of the community complained, but in reality, many actually FOUGHT for integration. Specifically, the Bannockburn community across MacArthur Boulevard from Glen Echo was extremely involved in integrating the park.

Additionally, the reason for bus service and trolley service being shut down was no different than anywhere else in the US in that time period - the popularity of the automobile and building of roads decreased ridership to the point that private ownership of the bus service and trolley cars did not make financial sense and they were shut down.

4 comments:

Keith said...

It looks fantastic. I would love to have been able to go back to it during its heyday.

Steven said...

"The surrounding community complained about the influx of urban African Americans. As a result, the trolley and bus service to Glen Echo were closed. Without the public transportation link, Glen Echo, like most small suburban amusement parks, closed in 1968."

That's not accurate - some of the community complained, but in reality, many actually FOUGHT for integration. Specifically, the Bannockburn community across MacArthur Blvd. from Glen Echo was extremely involved in integrating the park.

Additionally, the reason for bus service and trolley service being shut down was no different than anywhere else in the US in that time period - the popularity of the automobile and building of roads decreased ridership to the point that private ownership of the bus service and trolley cars did not make financial sense and they were shut down.

Anonymous said...

One of my most painful childhood memories is when I was told that I could not go to Glen Echo because I was a Negro. This after hearing that little ditty on the radio -
"The fun is where you find it..Where do you find it?....Glen Echo Amusement Park.....Glen Echo Amusement Park.

I remember many years later hearing about a fire there. I was not sad, even though I eventually went to Glen Echo. I remember that I couldnt and that really hurt.

Erik said...

We moved to Glen Echo in 1966. One of my first memories was driving along MacArthur Boulevard and watching the roller coaster rattling along. I don't know if it was still the Coaster Dips back then. The streetcars (they weren't technically trolleys although Washington did dabble in cable cars for a few years) ran out to the park along the edge of the river valley and crossed small ravines on a series of short trestles.I have fond memories of playing on the old tracks and trestles as a child.

Steven is exactly right. The streetcars were not discontinued in an effort to fight desegregation. Service ended in 1962 as buses took over as a more flexible alternative.

The park was desegregated in the early 1960s after a group of courageous Howard University students staged a summer long protest that saw them arrested, convicted and fined for entering the park to ride on the amusements. It took a 1964 Supreme Court decision to overturn the convictions and open the park to people of color. I remember, even as a child in the late 1960s and shortly before the park closed, seeing buses full of inner city kids arriving at the entrance along the old streetcar tracks.

Years later after the park was abandoned we would roam the ruins. We would wander through the old haunted house, pick up spent slugs at the Pop-A-Duck game. The best part was sneaking under the fence and into the Crystal Pool. The cavernous locker rooms were built on a rickety lattice of wooden supports high out over the river valley. Its a wonder we didn't go through the rotten floors and fall to our deaths. But we didn't and I have to admit that the abandoned park gave us a pretty magical place to spend a summers day.