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Setting the Stage


The Chautauqua movement was just one of the great reform trends sweeping the nation at the end of the 19th century. Based on the idea that everyone desires self-improvement, the Chautauqua was a Protestant effort to provide affordable education, culture, and recreation for the growing middle class. The Chautauqua took the form of a residential community where families went to immerse themselves in theater, lectures, concerts, and other intellectual activities.

In 1888 brothers Edward and Edwin Baltzley sold their patent on the "spatterless egg beater" and their Keystone Manufacturing Company and purchased property a few miles outside the Washington, D.C., city limits. There they established a residential development called "Glen Echo on the Potomac." In 1891 the Baltzleys, who were experiencing difficulty selling property so far out in the country, deeded 80 acres of their Glen Echo property to create a National Chautauqua. They believed the Chautauqua would help make their property more attractive to potential buyers. The Baltzleys' idea to take advantage of this national trend paid off handsomely as thousands of people came to Glen Echo to attend the Chautauqua. After only one season, however, a widespread rumor of a malaria epidemic (a disease spread by certain mosquitoes) in Glen Echo forced the Chautauqua to close.

A short time later, the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 helped spark interest in mechanical rides and other organized entertainments of amusement parks. Trolley companies across the country began purchasing land and building small amusement parks at the city boundaries as a way to encourage riders. The riders of the trolley cars were admitted free to the park. In 1911 the Washington Railway and Electric Company bought Glen Echo and created a new, modern and very popular mechanical amusement park. By the 1960s, however, Americans found other forms of entertainment more compelling and attendance levels at small local amusement parks dropped dramatically. At Glen Echo, not only did other forms of entertainment compete with the park, but many local citizens did not agree with the park's segregation policy. Local citizens, both black and white, fought that practice by boycotting and picketing the park. These new challenges to the park's operation resulted in the closing of Glen Echo Amusement Park in 1968. Three years later, intense pressure by local citizens to protect the park site from adverse development led to the federal government obtaining the property in a land exchange and creating a national park dedicated to providing educational and recreational opportunities to all people.

 

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