Neighborhood profile: Beltsville


Split-levels are common in Beltsville, where many homes date from the 1950s and ’60s. The community was named for the Belt family, long before the Beltway. (Photo by Jim Brocker)

When Kevin Kennedy’s Beltsville house caught fire in April 2011, he rushed home and was greeted by a dozen neighbors, all of whom had come to offer support as the firefighters battled to save the structure.

One neighbor had freed the family dog from the flames by breaking a window to get inside. Kennedy said he will never forget the concern that his neighbors showed as they stood with him.

“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.

Beltsville (Gene Thorp/The Washington Post)

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.”

The monthly Beltsville News, a free newspaper produced by community volunteers, is filled with stories about clubs and groups. A recent issue featured Boy Scouts delivering mulch, the volunteer fire department’s firefighter of the month and news from the schools. The paper was also full of advertising from local businesses, which have a following of loyal customers.

On a recent Saturday at Sam’s Barber Shop, Sam Saleh, 70, said he has served three generations of residents in his 40-plus years at the shop just off Route 1. Mustapha Jamal, 28, Class of 2002 at High Point and a graduate student at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, still comes to Sam’s. Jamal recalled his mother searching for “an old-fashioned barbershop” when his family moved to Beltsville from Indiana. Now, “only Sam cuts my hair,” Jamal said.

Ties to Beltsville run deep. Linda Diasgranados’s three sons attended area schools, and the youngest is now a sophomore at High Point. Diasgranados, 50, the school’s PTA president, said her sons were able to grow up with the same children they met in elementary school. “Most of the parents who moved into the area stayed in the area,” she said. “The kids bonded with the other kids. Many of them have gone to school together through 12th grade. ”

Diasgranados and her husband Clemente did move the family once — a few blocks away to a bigger home. “We didn’t want to move. . . . If we’re here, we’re here, and we’re involved,” she said. “I guess that’s why I’m PTA president,” she added with a laugh. Diasgranados is enthusiastic about plans to expand science, technology and math programs at the school, which already includes a special culinary and food service curriculum.

When the Beltway was built in the 1960s and I-95 opened several years later, Beltsville became a prime location for commuters to Washington and Baltimore. Home buyers have many choices: older-style bungalows, ramblers and split-levels along with apartments and condominiums, and, thus, the range of prices is wide. About 100 homes were sold in the past year, indicating plenty of activity.

While Beltsville has seen its share of foreclosures and short sales, Coakley says foreclosed homes this year are moving “the same as normal sales” when they come on the market. Coakley said many homes are on the market between 10 and 35 days, an improvement from two years ago, when houses took several months to sell.

Some residents who have moved elsewhere have returned. Barbara MacMichael, 63, lived in Beltsville as a child and remembers taking trips with her father and family to see the cows and pigs at the research center. She moved back a few years ago into her family home, and she and her granddaughter, Mariah, 2, like to spend time at the playground at the Beltsville Community Center.

For MacMichael, Beltsville “is just memories. You’ve been here, and you’re home.”

Jim Brocker is a freelance writer.

ZIP CODE: 20705.

BOUNDARIES: A rough boundary of Beltsville would include Muirkirk Road, Ammendale Road and the Briggs Chaney Road area to the north, the Montgomery County line and Interstate 95 to the west, and the Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center and the Capital Beltway to the south and east.

SCHOOLS: Beltsville Academy, Vansville Elementary and Calverton Elementary; Martin Luther King Middle; and High Point High.

SALES: In the past 12 months, 155 homes have sold in the neighborhood at prices ranging from $59,000 to $552,000, according to Karen Coakley of Re/Max Advantage Realty. Fifteen homes are on the market now, at prices ranging from $73,000 to $480,000, and 30 are under contract, from $99,000 to $565,000.

TRANSIT: The MARC train to Washington stops at a station on Muirkirk Road. The closest Metrorail station is Greenbelt, on the Green Line. Metrobus lines serve main roadways, including Route 1, Powder Mill Road, Rhode Island Avenue and Edmonston Road.

WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE: Shopping on Route 1, the District 6 police station and the Beltsville branch of the Prince George’s County Library. The Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center is a parklike expanse that dominates the southern portion of Beltsville.

WITHIN 15 MINUTES BY CAR: University of Maryland, Food and Drug Administration, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Fort Meade, Patuxent Research Refuge.

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