Someone searching for the heart of Montgomery County’s tiny Garrett Park could look no farther than Penn Place, the town’s only commercial building, on a Saturday.
The top floor of the old general store, built in the late 1800s, holds the town offices. Below that is Garrett Park’s only restaurant, Black Market Bistro. And downstairs, the row of mailboxes in the town’s post office serves as a center of social activity.
The town, located between White Flint and Rock Creek Park, has no home mail delivery, which means that its roughly 1,000 residents must go there to get their mail, interacting with their neighbors when they do.
“On Saturdays, when the farmers market is going on outside and the post office is buzzing inside, it’s obvious that Garrett Park is very much a place where people live and interact,” said Peter Benjamin, who has lived in the town since 1988 and has served as mayor for four nonconsecutive terms. “It is a community in every sense of the word, which in the Washington suburbs is unusual.”
Living there: The town incorporated in 1898, thanks in large part to Grace E.D. Sprigg’s decision to install indoor plumbing in her Garrett Park home, Benjamin said.
“People here were afraid of indoor plumbing and septic tanks,” Benjamin said. “The town incorporated in order to pass the town’s first law outlawing indoor plumbing.”
Sprigg left the town, and the regulation was eventually abolished. But the incorporation stayed.
Garrett Park is perhaps best known for its gingerbread-trimmed Victorian houses, which helped earn the entire town a place on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.
But Benjamin said the roughly 300 houses in the town represent a variety of architectural styles, including “Chevy houses,” or small houses built for returning World War I veterans. The houses, each of which had a small bedroom, a bathroom, a Pullman kitchen and a Murphy bed in the living room, were so named because homeowners could add a garage and a Chevrolet to the mortgage, according to “Garrett Park, Maryland: A Scrapbook,” published by the town in 1988.
Most of those Chevy houses remain standing today, albeit with large additions on the back.
The neighborhood is bounded by Rock Creek Park to the southeast, the Parkside development to the southwest, the B&O Railroad to the northeast, and Flanders Avenue and Waycross Way to the west.
Three houses sold within the past six months, from $665,000 to $1.175 million, according to Jeremy Lichtenstein, an agent with Re/Max; six are on the market, from $695,000 to $2.295 million; and three are under contract, from $779,000 to $819,000.
Social events: A chapel built in 1897 that serves as Town Hall hosts everything from yoga classes to town meetings and free movie nights.
The town also hosts a Fourth of July parade, a reception for newcomers and a monthly “coffee shop” in which musically inclined residents perform for neighbors, Benajmin said. The town’s swimming pool, a private, nonprofit entity that many residents are members of, also serves as a center of social activity.
Residents also gather at Porcupine Woods, a sliver of green space that the town purchased and turned into a park in 1973 to prevent it from being developed, Benjamin said.
The town has a cooperative nursery school, where parents help in the classroom on a rotating basis.
The railroad: Garrett Park was developed as a commuter suburb next to the Metropolitan Branch of the B&O Railroad in the late 1800s, and the first of many grand Victorian mansions was built in 1887, according to “Garrett Park,” a book of the town’s history written by Barbara Shidler and other town residents in 1974.
Today, many residents still commute to downtown Washington via MARC, which has a station at Penn Place, or by Metro — the Grosvenor-Strathmore station is less than a mile from most spots in town.
Garrett Park residents can also walk to dozens of restaurants and shops in nearby Rockville, White Flint and Kensington.
Benjamin said the proposed redevelopment of White Flint is a matter of concern for many residents, some of whom worry that the development will add traffic to Strathmore Avenue, which runs through the neighborhood.
Schools: Garrett Park Elementary, Tilden Middle and Walter Johnson High schools.
Amy Reinink is a freelance writer.