August 9, 2011

Riding the Glen Echo Trolley: From DC, Through the Palisades, to the Park!

My wife, infant son and I moved into the Palisades section of DC in 1959. We were lucky to find a small two-bedroom townhouse (5030 Sherier Place) that was affordable (barely) to us at $19,500. Before you gasp at that price, consider this: my friend Vola -- who partied with me in 1956 at a house in Georgetown where five of us rented apartments -- reminded me that I was the first of our group to break the $4,000 barrier for annual salary!

I was delighted to discover that the trolley car (which carried travellers to the Glen Echo amusement park in Maryland, just beyond the DC line) stopped right behind our house. What a great way to commute to work! I could hop on board and jump off at Pennsylvania Avenue and 24th Street, less than two blocks from my office.

You can get an idea of how special that ride was from this video:

Background on the Glen Echo Trolley
The Historical Marker Database -- provides this historical note:

Electric trolleys were introduced to the United States in 1888 in Richmond, Virginia, and quickly became the predominant mode of public transportation used throughout the first third of the 20th century. These vehicles ran more efficiently than horse and cable cars, and changed people's perception of speed and distance. Nearly all cities built trolley lines. 
They carried people to work and to their homes, and stimulated the development of suburban communities like Glen Echo. By World War I trolley transport was the fifth largest industry in the country. To increase off-hour ridership, many trolley companies established amusement parks, called "trolley parks" at the end of their lines. 
Trolleys to Glen Echo. Glen Echo Park was one such "trolley park". Originally opened as an amusement park in 1898, the land was purchased by The Washington Railway and Electric Company (WRECO) in 1903, and their number 20 line stopped at Glen Echo. This line began at Union Station in Washington D.C., ran west along Pennsylvania Avenue and M Street to Georgetown, and followed a private right-of-way parallel to the Potomac River. The line ended in Cabin John, Maryland at the one lane bridge. This trolley line offered a scenic ride from the city to the country. 
I loved that ride! But the trolley made its last voyage in January 1961. Critics claimed DC Transit closed down the line to promote buses.

On the night of the last trolley service, my wife, a friend and I were playing cards at the kitchen table when we heard lots of noise coming from the trolley stop just beyond our back fence. We ventured out to see what was happening and found a large group gathering in the cold, waiting for the last trolley. We later learned that similar "farewell parties" had occured at most trolley stops. As that last car clanged its way toward us, the crowd began singing Auld Lang Syne. That night was over half a century ago now... but it's still such a clear, poignant memory.

I recently retraced the trolley's route through my neighborhood with my camera.  Photos to come.


Geoff said...

I've lived in my house alongside the tracks and every now and then find a subway token while digging in my garden.  This is a great recollection and terrific footage of the old trolley. Thanks for posting this!

Smartjuanita said...

How can I get onto the trolley track and do a similar walk?  Thanks for the inspiration!  Jan

Foxhall Bill said...

I recall as a 7 year old (in 1957) my grandfather walking me to 35th & Prospect and boarding the streetcar to Glen Echo.  I don't recall if we actually visited the park (like we did so many time via auto) but think, instead, we just went for a 'ride.'

Additionally, my mother-in-law (who passed away several years back at age 97) used to tell how she had visiting neices from N.H. back in early 40's, would give them some money for Glen Echo and the streetcar, admonishing them to "be sure save a dime for the ride home" which, of course, they'd fail to do and have to pray upon the kindness of the conductor to let them ride back to D.C. for free.