The Early Trolley Park.In 1888 in Richmond, Virginia, Frank Sprague revolutionized American travel with his invention of the electric trolley. A new fast and economical transportation dawned. Suburban communities, like Glen Echo, soon opened up along many trolley lines. Along with a revolution of transportation came a new means of entertainment, the trolley park. Trolley parks were usually owned and operated by the transit company. They provided an incentive for evening and weekend travel. At first they included just a picnic grove, dance hall, and swimming/boating area. Admission was free. Families would go to these parks and the trolley companies made a handsome profit. To encourage family trips, trolley fares for children were lowered and alcohol was banned from the parks.
Evolution of the Trolley Park.The use of trolleys exploded in America in the early 20th century. By the time of WWI trolley companies employed over 100,000 workers and became the 5th largest industry in America. With the immense success of the trolley, these picnic parks began to modernize. After the introduction of the ferris wheel at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, almost every trolley park began to construct more attractions to draw crowds—ferris wheels, shooting galleries, carousels, penny arcades, fireworks displays and free concerts. By 1919 there were over 1,500 trolley parks in America. In the Washington area, the list of amusement parks included Glen Echo Park, Chevy Chase Lake, Marshall Hall, Suburban Gardens, Bethesda Park, Braddock Heights and Luna Park in Arlington. In a 1902 Cosmopolitan article, Day Allen Willey wrote, "the expression ?trolley-park' may not have yet come into common use, but no exploration of its meaning is necessary. The oldest of the trolley parks has been in existance but for a few years, yet today these resorts are to be found in the outskirts of nearly every city in the land." It is estimated that within the first three years operation attendance at the Trolley Parks averaged 400,000 people per season. However, the glory didn't last long, and the parks experienced an enormous decline during the Depression. The number of parks dwindled to around 400.
WW II, Automobiles and Disneyland.The remaining parks provided a welcome diversion from World War II. After the war, trolley parks faced a new competitor, the theme park. The first theme park, Disneyland, opened in California in 1955 and had five different themed areas designed to transport visitors to another time and place. The theme park encountered huge success. Along with Disneyland, the trolley parks had to compete with the ever growing automotive industry. When cars started to become more readily available to the middle class, trolleys were no longer needed for transportation. The trolley parks that had provided entertainment were no longer needed either. Now people could transport themselves to their own preferred entertainment. Today there are only 11 trolley parks still in operation in the U. S. but the memory of their glory days lives on in stories, pictures, and preserved parks like our own Glen Echo.