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Maryland's National Register Properties

Photo credit: Jennifer Falkinburg, 09/9/2003
Chautauqua Tower
Inventory No.: M: 35-26
Date Listed: 7/4/1980
Location: 7300 MacArthur Boulevard , Glen Echo, Montgomery County
Category: Building
Period/Date of Construction: 1891-1892
Architect/Builder: Architect: Victor Mindelef
Description: The Chautauqua Tower at Glen Echo Park is a Richardsonian Romanesque structure of irregularly shaped, rough-faced stone, dominating the central entrance to the park. Built in 1891-92, the tower is a circular structure, approximately 34' in diameter and three stories high, capped by an 11-sided roof of steep pitch with a flagpole rising from its peak. Casement windows of multiple pans pierce all three stories of the tower. The exterior stonework of the third story between the windows curves inward as it rises to the cornice. The cedar-shingled roof makes a similar curve as it splays out just above the cornice in its descent from the peak. A square chimney of stone projects from the northwest side of the tower at its juncture with an adjoining frame building and rises approximately six feet above the cornice line. Another stone projection rises from the top of the tower wall to the left of the chimney, and a gabled, shingled belfry roof runs between them. The first floor of the tower is undivided except for an enclosed stair curving against the east wall. It is unknown whether this space may once have been partitioned. The second floor, now open, displays evidence of having been divided into two rooms of unequal size. The third floor retains its original interior walls forming three rooms. A central post concealed at the juncture of these walls is the tower's only interior supporting member. The wooden roof is a 1975 replacement of an early-20th century tin roof, which was in turn a replacement of the original wood-shingle roof which burned in 1914. Crude wooden blocks suggestive of brackets beneath the eaves were not replaced in this restoration. Most of the wood-framed casement sash are original; others are accurate reproductions. The bells installed in the belfry have long been absent. Remnants of flashing on the interior walls at the third floor level suggest that the third floor windows were once unglazed, requiring the floor to be covered with protective roofing. Other alterations include the removal of a stone arch and the attachment of an addition. Significance: The Chautauqua Tower is significant as the sole intact physical remnant of the late-19th century Chautauqua movement at Glen Echo, Maryland, and as a local specimen of late-Victorian rustic architecture. The Chautauqua movement, so-called from the first assembly of its adherents on the shore of Lake Chautauqua, New York, in 1874, was an effort to democratize learning within an ecumenical Protestant religious framework by bringing the culture of the well-to-do to the masses. By 1891 the movement had expanded from its permanent home base to 52 more modest assemblies conducting two-week summer programs of educational lectures, classes, and entertainments in tents. The idea caught hold in Washington, D.C., where several groups formed a Chautauqua Union to plan programs from the area. By 1889, the Baltzley brothers, Edwin and Edward, had acquired some 1300 acres on the Maryland bank of the Potomac, and construction began quickly on two principal structures--the Amphitheater and the Hall of Philosophy--and on the stone tower, archway, and adjoining buildings forming the gateway to the campus. The tower, designed by local architect Victor Mindelef, housed administrative offices and mounted bells from the McShane foundry of Baltimore. The assembly opened in 1891 with the buildings still unfinished, although the Amphitheater was sufficiently complete to accommodate the large dedication crowd. The array of Chautauqua programs was well attended by several hundred persons until August. But this first successful season proved to be the last. In late August, Dr. Henry Spencer, head of the Chautauqua's business school, died of pneumonia. Rumor spread that he had contracted malaria, making people reluctant to visit the area. In 1899 the National Chautauqua property was leased to the Glen Echo Company, an amusement park venture. The tower is the only building remaining intact from the Chautauqua development. Despite the loss of its architectural context, the Chautauqua tower stands as a highly picturesque Glen Echo landmark and as a reminder of a significant aspect of the modern community's origins.


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