On the outskirts of Washington, D.C., just over the border in Northwest, lies a place that will take you back decades.
Glen Echo Park, in Montgomery County, Maryland, was originally built in 1891, conceived as a Chautauqua, a location for an adult education movement that was sweeping the nation, a place were people would take classes in religion, dancing and entertainment.
In the park, Chautauqua classes were held in a stone building, completed in 1892. Shortly thereafter, the area expanded, adding an amusement park.
In the early 1900s, Glen Echo had a roller coaster, a large pool, a movie theater, a shooting range and an arcade.
In 1968, the amusement park closed, but Glen Echo remains. It now serves to entertain children and to offer adult education classes, making it still well worth a visit.
The park is very easily accessible, on MacArthur Boulevard, just off the Beltway. And a trip can be an enjoyable affair for the entire family.
Going into Glen Echo, you’ll see an old, retired street car parked out front, remnants of the old trolley system that took D.C. natives to the park. The sign above the trolley evokes 1950s nostalgia, with rounded block letters spelling out Glen Echo Park.
The most popular attraction at Glen Echo is mainly for children. Just south of the entrance is one of the park’s original rides, the Dentzel Carousel. Originally built in 1921, the carousel harkens back to olden days. Now, it is only open from Father’s Day to the end of September.
Its hours are also restricted. In July and August, it’s open on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. On Saturday and Sunday, the carousel is open from noon to six p.m. It’s closed the rest of the year.
A ride costs just $1.25. It’s worth every penny to see the inside. The carousel recently underwent a full renovation, and it is now restored to its original 1921 splendor. The horses on the ride are all hand-carved, intricate figures that showcase great detail and depth. It’s one of a kind in this area, and can really be a delight for kids and adults alike.
Although the carousel is the only ride that remains in service from the Glen Echo’s amusement park days, signs, entrances and buildings remain from many of the old attractions.
Walking around the park, you can see the entrance for the old Crystal Pool, the Candy Corner and the bumper car pavilion, which has now been converted to an open air ballroom.
On the park’s premises you’ll also find the Clara Barton House, a museum dedicated to the life of Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross.
The large yellow house was built in 1897, using lumber leftover from a flood in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Barton lived in it the last part of her life, and established the headquarters of the Red Cross there. Now, visitors can tour it and see her home and artifacts from her life.
Glen Echo Park also hosts a robust art and adult education program, offering classes in the former amusement park buildings. For art lovers, the depth of classes is astounding, from basic ceramics and pottery classes to advanced forms such as glass blowing and silver smithing.
Alongside its art program, Glen Echo offers dance classes, music lessons and a theater and puppetry program. Over the summer, they also offer a large children’s program, with similar classes aimed at youths.
So whether you’d like to indulge in a lesson to learn a new skill or trade, or you just want to stroll in an area that evokes a much simpler time, Glen Echo Park is the place to visit. There’s nothing else like it in Washington.
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