“Where do you find that?” Kennedy said recently from his house, which was rebuilt on the same spot. After the fire, Kennedy and his wife, Linda, didn’t have to live in Beltsville. With their four children grown, there were no family ties to keep them there. “But this is a real community” in which residents support one another, he said.
Located in Prince George’s County north of the Beltway between Route 1 and Interstate 95, Beltsville was named after the Belt family, early landowners. Beltsville began to grow in the 1800s when the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad came, and houses and subdivisions followed piece by piece, leaving a mix of home styles that vary from block to block. The building boom escalated in the 1950s and 1960s, and now, much of Beltsville’s residential area is hidden behind highways.
The clutter of power lines, tightly packed businesses and industrial parks along Route 1 and the railroad tracks are as much a part of Beltsville as the tree-lined streets, the parks and the sprawling Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center — a mammoth 7,000-acre swath of farmland that separates Beltsville from neighboring suburbs. The contrasts can be striking — less than a minute from the bumper-to-bumper traffic on Route 1, residents live along quiet streets, near schools and churches.
Residents say they understand that the commercial sprawl and the traffic are part of living in their community, but they are fiercely loyal to Beltsville. “It grates on everyone’s nerves when we hear someone say something derogatory about Beltsville,” said Ted Ladd, 80, who moved to the community in 1962 with his wife, Ann, and has been involved with local groups ever since, from the Boy Scouts to the Lions Club.
Those community service organizations — the Lions, Rotary and the Women’s Community Club of Beltsville — are joined in their outreach efforts by school groups, scout troops and churches. “People here want to help other people and like to get things done,” Ladd said. “They have pride in Beltsville.”
Emmanuel United Methodist Church is working with Beltsville’s Behnke Nurseries on a garden that provides produce for the church’s food exchange. Behnke’s provides the land, seeds and gardening tips, “whatever they need,” said Alfred Millard, 63, the company president and a Beltsville resident for more than 40 years. “Beltsville is a community in transition. . . . Twenty years ago, a food bank maybe was not needed as much in Beltsville as it is now.”
Lifelong resident Karen Coakley, an agent for Re/Max Advantage and president of the Beltsville-Vansville District Citizens Association, spent a recent morning at one of several home renovations in which volunteers from the community helped older residents as part of the county’s Christmas in April program. At one house, the county police, along with the police Explorers youth group, teamed with students from Beltsville’s High Point High School. At another, members of the Beltsville Volunteer Fire Department were hard at work. “We have phenomenal volunteer organizations in this community,” said Coakley, 54, a member of several service organizations. Added Coakley: “I am my mother’s daughter, and I was raised to give back to the community.”