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Looks Can Be Deceiving, Even in Burnt Mills Hills

Several houses have been constructed in recent decades, making the neighborhood architecturally more diverse. The housing stock now includes contemporaries, including a 1981 house on 1.2 acres designed by the late architect Ronald Senseman, who also lived in it. The house is now for sale, for $975,000.

While Burnt Mills Hills retains its off-the-beaten-path feeling, commuters have discovered ways to cut through between Lockwood Drive (the former Colesville Pike before Route 29 became Colesville Road) and New Hampshire Avenue. Residents have campaigned for speed bumps, but a morning traffic count of 377 vehicles in November 2000 did not meet the county's threshold. Traffic came to a brief halt last fall after Hurricane Isabel downed power lines that blocked the way through Gatewood Avenue.

John B. Nutter, 92, designed 14 of the 60 homes in Burnt Mills Hills and has lived in his English Tudor-style house there since August 1937. (Eugene L. Meyer For The Washington Post)

Burnt Mills Hills

BOUNDARIES: The 60-home neighborhood is a small group of streets tucked between Lockwood Drive and New Hampshire Avenue, with Northwest Branch Park to the south.

SCHOOLS: Cresthaven Elementary, Francis Scott Key Middle and Springbrook High schools.

HOME SALES: Two houses sold last year for $575,000 and $845,000. One house is on the market for $975,000.

WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE: Private community swimming pool, Northwest Branch Park, two synagogues, Seventh Day Adventist church, White Oak Shopping Center, medical offices at Lockwood and New Hampshire and at Lockwood Drive and Colesville Road.

WITHIN 5-10 MINUTES BY CAR: White Oak, Hillandale and Four Corners shopping centers, downtown Silver Spring and Metro, Silver Spring YMCA, Capital Beltway, Wheaton Mall, restaurants and shops.

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Today, residents fear traffic could increase because of the planned move by the 7,700-employee Food and Drug Administration from Rockville to the former Naval Surface Warfare Center across New Hampshire Avenue.

For now, however, there is hardly gridlock in the neighborhood, which also has several dead-end streets and a southern edge that abuts Northwest Branch Park. The branch, another surprising feature with its deep rocky gorge just off Route 29, once powered mills that have since burned down, giving the neighborhood its name.

The park and the tree-shaded hills contribute to the rustic feeling of Burnt Mills Hills. Still, from some of the houses, the high-rise apartments of nearby White Oak are part of the skyline, and the Beltway is just five minutes down the road.

Jim Cummings, 58, a consulting engineer, and at least two other families moved to Burnt Mills Hills from the modest Indian Springs neighborhood, off Colesville Road just inside the Beltway. "It's like a progression, a stair-stepping," said Cummings, who lives in a 1942 Nutter house he has expanded since he bought it in 1988.

"We used to come back here when I was 16 or 17, find the dead ends and park," recalled Cummings, who grew up in closer-in Silver Spring. "Once you got past Four Corners, you were pretty much in the country."

In 2001, Millard and Deborah Barger and their two sons also moved up from Indian Spring to have room for their six dogs. They live in a large Cape Cod built in 1941 on a hilly two-acre lot with 92 boxwoods and a towering magnolia tree in back. "We didn't know the neighborhood was here until we were house-hunting," said Deborah Barger.

Over the years, Burnt Mills Hills has had its share of notables. Among them: Minnesota Rep. Albert H. Quie, who later served one term as governor; the Bainum family, which owned the Manor Care nursing homes; the founder of Briggs Ice Cream; Arch McDonald, the legendary late radio sportscaster; and Frank S. Pohanka, the automobile dealer.

But it's the homes themselves that sell the neighborhood. "Aristocratic! Beautiful! Luxurious!" cries out a 1937 ad for the Norman, "A Gentleman's Country Home" with 2.2 acres on Edelblut Drive.

When new, it sold for the then-lordly sum of $40,000; last July, it went for $845,000. Designed by Nutter, it was built to resemble a castle, and it still does.

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