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Back when with Wes Reeves

Amarillo was founded in 1887, and for about 20 years she was all work. There were rails to be laid, cattle to be shipped, babies to be birthed and wickedness to be cleansed.

But by 1908 Amarillo was kicking back and feeling a mite fancy. The Lord was rightfully worshipped, at long last, in temples of brick and stone. There were fancy hotels, a big opera house on Polk and an electric streetcar line that connected all this newfound urbanity together. 

At Ellwood Park, you could trot out your surrey—fringe or no fringe on top—and take your gal on a ride through an awkward forest of Siberian elm saplings and convince yourself it was Kansas City. An age of leisure had dawned and Amarillo had earned it.

For some folks, however, this Edwardian idyll felt a bit too boujie, and maybe a bit too safe. After all, this was Amarillo, where something like getting kicked in the head by a mule was funny as long as it didn’t lead to serious injury. So at just the right time in the city’s history, along came Glenwood Electric Park to keep things real.

Glenwood is one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, but in 1908, it was “way outchunder” as we like to say. What drew the masses that year to the vicinity of Southeast 28th and Osage was a new amusement park complete with a roller coaster, a carousel and a Ferris wheel. There was also dog and horse racing, a track for racing automobiles and a small zoo. You could even take in a baseball game or hear a concert in the two-story opera house built on site. And it was all lit up with electricity, the latest and greatest wonder of the age.

The Amarillo Street Railway Company, itself powered by electricity, built a special line from downtown to deliver citizens to the front gate of the park. Imagine being whisked away on an electric streetcar in the late evening of a golden Panhandle summer day, rounding the turn to Glenwood and seeing the largest collection of electric lights a country boy or gal had ever seen. Glenwood Electric Park, in its day, was the thrill of Cynergy, Wonderland and Smokey Joe’s on a Saturday night—all in one place.

Sadly, it wasn’t to last. Just like now, we tend to go hog wild on something new and then move on pretty quickly. Soon enough folks were buying cars, and riding the trolley was sooo 1908. By 1917, the streetcar line to Glenwood was discontinued, and the electric park shorted out. 

The memories of Glenwood Electric Park have faded with the generations that have now passed on. There’s no trace of it left, with most of the site having been built over in recent years by Glenwood Apartments. But that spirit of adventure and love of all things new were woven into Amarillo’s DNA a long time ago, and Glenwood Electric Park was a powerful influence on our yearning to rest from our labors and have a little fun.   

Author

  • Wes was raised in the Texas Panhandle and has been a resident of Amarillo for almost 30 years. He has been active in the Amarillo Historical Preservation Foundation for the past 15 years, and works in his spare time to bring history alive through historical preservation and engaging new generations in the appreciation of the region’s colorful history.