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The Oddity, The Ecstasy Of the Little Lost Lane

By Eugene L. Meyer
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, February 5, 2005; Page G01

When serious snow blankets the area, residents of tiny Hawkins Lane in North Chevy Chase don't wait for the county plows. Instead they take up a collection, or get out and shovel the street themselves.

They have no choice. A rustic enclave abutting Montgomery County parkland and the grounds of Bethesda Naval Hospital, Hawkins Lane is not a county road. It's unpaved, unplowed and uncharted as far as officialdom is concerned. By law, it must forever remain so.

HAWKINS LANE

BOUNDARIES: Hawkins Lane is a 1/3-mile long dead-end street fronting on Jones Bridge Road to the south. It is otherwise bordered by county parkland and the grounds of the Bethesda Naval Hospital.

SCHOOLS: Rosemary Hills and North Chevy Chase Elementary, Westland Middle, Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.

HOME SALES: The most recent house sale was for $755,000 in April; it is one of two homes made to look old but built in 1995. No houses are on the market.

WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE: Medical Center Metro station, Bethesda's Woodmont Triangle shops and restaurants

WITHIN 5-10 MINUTES BY CAR: North Chevy Chase Park, Downtown Bethesda, downtown Silver Spring, Chevy Chase Circle, Metro stations, National Institutes of Health, National Naval Medical Center (Bethesda Naval Hospital), Capital Beltway, Kensington's Antique Row.

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For Hawkins Lane, a dead-end street off busy Jones Bridge Road between Connecticut Avenue and Rockville Pike, is a historic district. It's a designation residents obtained in 1991 to prevent developers from widening the road and replacing their small dwellings with expensive new townhouses and larger single-family homes.

As a result, Hawkins Lane residents are responsible for plowing their street and filling its potholes. Instead of having mail delivered to their doors, they walk to a bank of letter boxes lined up where the street empties out onto Jones Bridge Road.

"We're like a family here," said Bob Camps, a pediatric dentist who with his wife moved from "a huge house" in Bethesda to a smaller one on Hawkins Lane when their daughters went off to college.

Originally, Hawkins Lane really was family. The land was owned by James H. Hawkins, a former slave, preacher and farmer who acquired three acres for $300 from descendants of his white namesake. In the 1920s, his son put in the lane and built six houses for family members and for rent. He sold a few lots, too, for others to develop.

In 1932, these were acquired by Russell Mizell, whose family still owns the Kensington lumberyard and hardware store bearing his name. At the end of the lane, Mizell built tiny cottages "to be tenanted by Negroes," according to county records. Additional modest homes rose in the 1950s.

For decades, the lane remained an African American "kinship community" of small houses with coal stoves and outdoor toilets. Sewer didn't come until 1965.

The block today encompasses 15 homes, while the slightly larger historic district also takes in three more houses fronting on Jones Bridge. Two sit vacant, three are rented, and the rest are owner-occupied. Since the historic designation, two new houses adhering to the architecture of the period have been built, and a third received an addition larger than the original houses. All changes had to meet preservation standards.

If the block looks much the same as it has for years, its demographics have shifted dramatically. African Americans live in two houses, and Hawkins descendants -- Steven and Michele Reid and their children -- occupy just one house, which has a Jones Bridge address.

"We've been fairly successful in keeping it architecturally simple, not allowing mansionization," said Gwen Marcus Wright, the county's historic preservation officer. "But we can't preserve the people."

Though no longer linked by blood, people on the block remain close-knit and include a mix of families with children, singles and childless couples. "Yesterday, we had about seven kids sledding down Hawkins Lane, taking turns pulling each other," Kathy Sessions, a resident since 2002, said after a recent storm.

Every year or so, according to Albert Jenkins, who lives near the top of the lane, residents spring for a truckload of crushed stone for pothole filling, at a cost of about $200.

FedEx and UPS trucks rumble up the lane, but not the U.S. Postal Service. As a result, neighbors meet neighbors at the mailboxes, or fetch each other's mail. "I was on mail duty for two neighbors over the holidays," Sessions said. "Similarly, when I go out of town, people pick up my mail."


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