Years ago a trip to the amusement park didn't include hanging upside down three stories above a lake and plummeting 60 miles an hour towards what seems like sure death. Not for either the faint of heart or for me. Back in "my day" the place to go was Glen Echo Park in Maryland. With a simple wooden roller coaster (clack clack clack) bumper cars and a fantastic carousel it was the place to go on a summer evening. Even better was the huge swimming pool to dive into at the end of your fun on the rides.
The history of Glen Echo Park goes way beyond those days as a great amusement park. In 1888 two brothers, Edwin and Edward Balztley purchased 516 acres and named it Glen Echo on the Potomac. They compared the location to the Rhine River in Germany and began to build on the property. As the years went by the Park grew and by 1931 most of the amusement rides were in place and the huge "Crystal Pool" which could accommodate up to 3000 swimmers was open. By the 1940's the park was starting to fall on hard times with many of the men who maintained the property being called to active duty in the military.
The park closed its doors 1968 with the owners deciding to sell the property to developers who planned to build apartments on the banks of the Potomac River overlooking the C&O Canal. Fortunately because of the location and land use restrictions the owners instead traded the land to the National Park Service for another piece of property and Glen Echo was saved.
For a few years the park remained in limbo and then it opened again, not as an amusement park but as an arts education facility offering classes for all ages. Unfortunately the buildings, many of them nice examples of the Art Deco Style were falling into disrepair. In cooperation with Montgomery County the Park Service was able to create a partnership to raise funds to save most of the buildings and restore the Carousel the centerpiece of the entire park.
Today hundreds of courses are taught every year, including glass arts, dancing, puppetry, photography and painting. The Friday night dances in the Spanish Ballroom are packed with both novices and experts alike.
If you haven't taken a trip to check out this piece of local history put it on your plans. Located just off McArthur Blvd and the Clara Barton parkway it is easy to get to and you can also enjoy a walk along the locks of the C&O Canal at the same time.
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