Where We Live: Lyttonsville, a neighborhood where change once came slowly

Photo by Amy Reinink - Modest single-family homes are typical in the neighborhood.

Charlotte Coffield grew up in a Lyttonsville without running water or paved roads, where a close-knit group of predominately black residents lived as a sort of large extended family, watching out for one another’s kids and enjoying close friendships.

Today, Lyttonsville, west of Silver Spring and north of East-West Highway, is a modern community with residents from around the world. And as a proposed location for a Purple Line stop, it is bracing for major change again over the next decade or so.

(Laris Karklis/The Washington Post)

“The neighborhood is highly diversified, but most neighbors still know each other, and longtime residents still work together on issues that are important to us, like the Purple Line,” said Coffield, who was born in Lyttonsville in 1933 and is among five generations of family members to live in the neighborhood. “When new people come in, for the most part, they seem to stay.”

Lyttonsville is named for Samuel Lytton, a freed slave who established the community when he bought property there in 1853. It was among the first predominantly black neighborhoods in Montgomery County, Coffield said, and several descendants of the original residents still call it home.

The neighborhood changed very little in the first half of the 20th century and did not get running water and paved streets until a county redevelopment effort in the late 1960s and early 1970s, after years of residents’ lobbying.

Coffield recalls attending a two-room schoolhouse on Garfield Avenue that was heated with a potbellied stove and had no indoor plumbing, only outhouses.

Patricia A. Tyson, 70, a retired federal worker who also grew up in Lyttonsville, said she remembers taxis refusing to drive into the neighborhood on rainy days, because cars would get stuck as the dirt roads turned muddy.

On the other hand, Tyson said, “everybody knew everybody.”

“There were two churches and the two-room schoolhouse, and those kept the neighborhood alive,” said Tyson, whose late father, Lawrence S. Tyson, headed the Lyttonsville Community Civic Association for four decades. “We knew each other, mingled with each other and trusted each other.”

As part of the redevelopment effort, many of the neighborhood’s substandard houses were torn down and replaced by modular houses, leaving some longtime residents who had rented the substandard houses unable to afford the newer homes, Coffield said.

Some moved to Friendly Gardens, a low-income garden apartment complex built to accommodate them.

Lyttonsville now consists of 67 single-family houses; 16 townhouses; roughly 85 garden apartments in Friendly Gardens; and roughly 400 apartments in the Claridge House, a high-rise off Lyttonsville Road, Tyson said.

The neighborhood has grown significantly more ethnically diverse through the years, and it now houses residents from around the globe, including Africa, Southeast Asia and other far-flung locales.

Vinicio Grenidge, who came to the United States from Guatemala in 1982, moved to a Habitat for Humanity house in Lyttonsville with his wife, Miriam, and their four children in 1995.

Grenidge, 57, said the neighborhood’s inclusive atmosphere and friendly vibe made it feel like home right away.

“It’s a peaceful, happy place,” Grenidge said. “Everyone is so happy and courteous. When you walk by, everyone smiles and says ‘Good morning’ and ‘Goodnight’ to each other.”

Roger Paden, who has lived 30 feet from the neighborhood boundary with Rosemary Hills for the past 10 years and has been active in civic affairs for both neighborhoods, touted the neighborhood’s proximity to downtown Silver Spring and Bethesda, and to major roads. “We can drive down Rock Creek Parkway and be downtown at the Kennedy Center or the National Mall within 10 to 15 minutes, if there’s no traffic,” said Paden, 60, who teaches philosophy at George Mason University.

New and longtime residents alike are preparing for another wave of change with the proposed construction of a Purple Line station near Brookville Road and Lyttonsville Place.

Initially, Maryland Transit Administration officials also proposed a new rail yard and maintenance shop near the station that would have displaced 17 properties, according to the MTA.

The Lyttonsville Community Civic Association, of which Coffield is president, protested that the facility was too close to neighborhood homes, and it successfully lobbied for a new location. In March, MTA officials unveiled a new plan that calls for a more compact facility farther from the residential part of the neighborhood, west of Lyttonsville Place.

A Purple Line station would still mean major change for the neighborhood. The latest iteration of the plans would call for part of Brookville Road and the Lyttonsville Place bridge to be realigned, displacing five properties, according to the MTA.

Discussions about the Purple Line come as residents start to work with Montgomery County planning officials to create the Lyttonsville-Rosemary Hills Sector Plan, which will direct the community’s future growth.

Paden said he and others see opportunity in the changes. He envisions the community becoming a nature destination, with the proposed rail station’s proximity to Rock Creek Park. He said he is also optimistic the station could lead to more development along Brookville Road.

Paden said whatever the neighborhood’s future holds, the fact that residents are working together to create it proves that its original character is still intact.

“Lyttonsville has a great history of political involvement, and that tradition really helps make the community strong,” Paden said. “Through the process of civic engagement, I have gotten to know many of my neighbors, and I think that’s great.”

Amy Reinink is a freelance writer.

ZIP CODE: 20910

BOUNDARIES: Lanier Drive to the east, Talbot Avenue to the north, Brookville Road to the west and Lyttonsville Place to the south.

SCHOOLS: Rosemary Hills, North Chevy Chase and Rock Creek Forest elementary; Westland Middle; and Bethesda-Chevy Chase High.

HOME SALES: In the past 12 months, one home was sold in Lyttonsville, for $515,000, according to Debbie Cook of Long & Foster. Two houses are on the market, for $300,00 and $375,900. One house is under contract, for $379,900.

WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE: Gwendolyn E. Coffield Community Recreation Center, Rock Creek Park, Capital Crescent Trail.

WITHIN 10 MINUTES BY CAR: Downtown Silver Spring, downtown Bethesda.

TRANSIT: Multiple bus lines, Silver Spring Metro station (Red Line).

 
Read what others are saying