Friday, April 7, 2017

What Goes Around

Glen Echo Park has come full circle since it was first envisioned as a Chautauqua community. An artists' utopia. In the 1890s, it was touted as "Glen Echo on the Potomac: the Washington Rhine." Original plans called for a large sylvan amphitheater, a hall of philosophy, a women's temple, and a school of fine arts, as well as hotels and cottages.

Clara Barton, who was a rock star at the time, was convinced to join the community with a donation of land for her Red Cross headquarters, but by 1897, when she left her offices in Washington, (above d.c space) the Chautauqua dream was over. Fake news and rumors of malaria had scared people away causing the artist's colony to fail financially after only one successful season. Clara Barton, a nurse and ever pragmatic, was still happy to have the space for her enterprise.

The rest of the property was rented to carnival folk, and in 1906, the manager tried to chase Ms Barton away by building a roller coaster in her front yard. But he underestimated the eighty-five year old Barton. She had scavenged building materials for her home and worked on the interior herself, and she still prided herself on being able to hammer a straight nail. She didn't budge, and her house is on my top ten list of cool places to visit. (Admission is free.)

Over the years Glen Echo on the Potomac was transformed into a full blown amusement park that thrived until the 1960s.

Now, under the management of the National Park Service, Glen Echo is art centric again.  The Dentzel Carousel, a work of art in itself, is the only original ride that was rescued, and it's a grand centerpiece- surrounded by art studios and galleries. I hear Pralines- an outstanding local bakery- has a concession there, too. Dances are held regularly in the perfectly restored Spanish Ballroom, as well as the Bumper Car Pavilion, which is basically an outdoor venue so folks can still take in the scene if they don't want to dance. This Sunday look for the Wild Anacostias  from 3-6.

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