Glen Echo Park

The Glen Echo Park-Clara Barton House cultural landscape is on the east side of the Potomac River in Maryland, just northwest of Washington, D.C.  Its historic significance begins in 1888 when the land was initially purchased by the Baltzley Brothers. The property was host to a 19th-century Chautauqua educational campus, the home of Red Cross founder Clara Barton, and a 20th-century amusement park that operated until 1968.

Edwin Baltzley, one of the two founders of Glen Echo, promoted the development as a place that combined "the beauties of mountain and river scenery, the charm of a mild climate, and the blessing of perfect health." Edwin Baltzley, from the 1890 brochure "Glen-Echo-on-the-Potomac: The Washington Rhine"

The house had a massive granite facade and a brick cross over the doors.
The original front of the Clara Barton House, ca. 1891-97

(Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

An aerial view of the landscape shows the river, canal clearing in the trees, and amusement park.

The 22-acre Glen Echo Park-Clara Barton House cultural landscape in Montgomery County, Maryland comprises two National Park Service units: Glen Echo Park and the Clara Barton National Historic Site. The Clara Barton National Historic Site is an independent National Park Service holding, and Glen Echo Park is under the jurisdiction of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. The cultural landscape property is 2.5 miles northwest of D.C. on the east side of the Potomac River.  

The property includes part of the 80 acres of land donated by Edward and Edwin Baltzley to establish the National Chautauqua of Glen Echo in 1891. They also gifted a portion of this land to Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, and supplied the labor and materials used to construct Barton's house. Realizing limited success with the Chautauqua idea, Edwin Baltzley began renting out the grounds to Vaudeville acts, and by 1899 the first amusement park structures were built. 

The domed Carousel House is painted in bright colors and was restored to match historic styles.

Many elements of the Glen Echo Park-Clara Barton House cultural landscape continue to reflect the historic period of significance (1888-1968). This period begins with the purchase of the site by Edward and Edwin Baltzley and continues until the permanent closure of the Glen Echo amusement park. Many of the historic structures remain, including the Clara Barton House and amusement park buildings that represent a layering of styles. Some are in the Art Deco style, and several are examples of Shingle architecture or other turn of the century styles like the Spanish revival.  

Even though the land had originally been purchased with other intents and the bank foreclosed on the property in 1903, the amusement park idea took hold at Glen Echo. In fact, 16.5 acres of the Chautauqua campus would function in this capacity until 1968 under the name Glen Echo Park.

The round driveway at the Clara Barton House surrounds an island of trees and shrubs.

Clara Barton lived in the house on the adjoning property for a brief time in 1891, and then again from 1897 until her death in 1912. During the second period, she developed the landscape into a miniature farm that was primarily self-sustaining.

Congress declared the Clara Barton House a National Historic Landmark on January 12, 1965, and in 1974 passed legislation establishing the house and grounds as the Clara Barton National Historic Site. This property was acquired by NPS in April 1975 through a donation from the Friends of Clara Barton. 

Historic trees still grow in the Picnic Grove section the park, and the 1921 Dentzel Carousel continues to operate seasonally. The Clara Barton House, a National Historic Landmark, was added to the National Register of Historic Places following the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. The 1980 National Register Nomination identified the Clara Barton National Historic Site as nationally significant, based upon its association with the life and work of Clara Barton. Glen Echo Park was listed on the National Register as a historic district in 1984. The Chautauqua Tower, the oldest intact structure in the Glen Echo Park-Clara Barton House Cultural Landscape, and the Dentzel Carousel were previously individually listed in 1980. 

A photo of
The Whip, shown in 1928 alongside the original design schematic for the centrifugal tracked ride (1915), was first installed in 1918.

Library of Congress/U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

The historic character of the Glen Echo Park-Clara Barton House cultural landscape is reflected in many of the existing features. The landscape provides evidence of its past as a late 19th-century Chautauqua educational campus, a 20th century amusement park, and an example of a trolley park. It is also important for its associations with Clara Barton, including her life and work with the Red Cross Association. Along with her house, other structures within the park exemplify architectural trends and design.  

Quick Facts

  • Cultural Landscape Type: Vernacular/Historic Site
  • National Register Significance Level: National
  • National Register Significance Criteria: A, B, C, D
  • National Historic Landmark
  • Period of Significance: 1888-1968

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Last updated: March 23, 2017