Glen Echo, MD and stories from Montgomery County's past

Glen Echo MD

Glen Echo, MD is the only national park that was formerly an amusement park. Remnants of the park can still be seen in the bumper car pavilion and carousel, but the pool and roller coaster are long gone. (photo: Gannett/Nicole Taylor)

While DealChicken is busy hunting and pecking around Montgomery County, Maryland in hunt of the best daily deals, he’s stumbled across a few fascinating stories in the county’s history. With a former amusement park in Glen Echo, MD-inspired songs and one of the “coolest” cities in the U.S., Montgomery County has plenty to boast about. Here are a few of our favorite facts: 

Montgomery County is not only one of Washington, D.C.’s largest and populous suburbs, bordering on a million people, it is also one of the wealthiest counties in the country. And not just wealthy, but oh so cool. Forbes ranked Bethesda as number seventeen on its America’s Coolest Cities list in 2012. 

As any county resident will tell you, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal towpath is one of the most popular outdoor destinations. The canal opened between Georgetown and Seneca in 1830 and operated until the great flood of 1924. The Canal Quarters program has refurbished three lockhouses in Montgomery County—six, ten and twenty-two—for overnight visitors to stay in today. It’s much more interesting than a hotel!

The Seneca quarry in Montgomery County provided the bright red sandstone used for construction of the Smithsonian Castle. The quarry was first owned by John P.C. Peter, a great-grandson of Martha Washington. He died horribly of lockjaw in January 1849 as workers were busily quarrying stones for the Castle. Closed for good in 1900, the quarry sits unmarked next to the canal turning basin, right after the Seneca Aqueduct at mile marker 22. Rumor has it that the remnants of a Prohibition-era still reside in one of the quarries. 

After Prohibition was repealed in 1933, Maryland adopted the three-tier alcohol distribution system, as did most other states. But not Montgomery County. The county decided to strictly control alcohol by selling it directly through Department of Liquor Control stores. Hoping to pick up a bottle of wine or six-pack of beer at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods? Sorry, you can’t unless you cross county lines.

The Clara Barton National Historic Site and Glen Echo Park are divided only by a parking lot. The humanitarian Barton—the “Angel of the Battlefield”—became president of the American Red Cross and built her headquarters there in 1891. Glen Echo Park followed a few years later, and was the site of a key civil rights era sit-in at the Dentzel Carousel in 1960. Glen Echo, MD is the only amusement park in the national park system—and a wondrous place to photograph, take art classes and dance. 

The Silver Theatre is Silver Spring’s landmark—a nautical Art Deco masterpiece from 1938 that nearly met the wrecking ball. Thankfully preserved, it has formed the core of a revitalized downtown and now houses the American Film Institute. 

At the start of the Civil War in 1861, Montgomery County found itself on the front line, as Maryland stayed in the Union, while Virginia seceded. The Potomac River divided the two. Montgomery was a slaveholding county and sympathetic to the Confederacy, though most farms were small and had fewer than ten slaves. 

Driving around town, you’ll notice plenty of Mills: Kemp Mill, Burnt Mill, Muncaster Mill, Veirs Mill, Bowie Mill, Watkins Mill, and Bells Mill. This is no coincidence. In the 19th Century, mills were an important part of the local economy. We pay tribute to them today with neighborhood and road names

Once a sleepy stop on the B&O Railroad’s Metropolitan Branch, Gaithersburg now hosts one of the biggest book festivals in the Mid-Atlantic. West Virginia may claim John Denver’s song “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” but Denver was inspired to write it while driving along Clopper Road in Gaithersburg, which was unpaved at the time. 

Old Angler’s Inn is much more than just a place to park your car to kayak on the Potomac or start a hike to Great Falls. The inn was founded in 1860 as a haven for sport fishermen, but really took off from a fluke of nature: the Maryland Gold Mine. A Union soldier discovered gold there in 1864, and mines operated in the area until 1939. The Maryland Gold Mine trail is a best-kept secret: even on a sweltering hot day, the trail is shaded, and the inn is nearby to sate your thirst. 

Did you already know about the carousel at Glen Echo MD and these other facts? Brush up on your Salisbury/Ocean City history.


Article by Garrett Peck for DealChicken.Garrett Peck is the author of “Prohibition in Washington, D.C.: How Dry We Weren’t” and “The Potomac River: A History and Guide,” and is completing a book about the Seneca quarry.