A Divine Landscape, Revered by Residents
Houses of Worship Congregate in Cloverly

By Marianne Kyriakos
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, December 9, 2006

Cloverly owes much of its spacious and quiet character to a speckled brown fish.

In 1929, avid anglers dumped buckets of imported German trout into rocky Paint Branch stream, stocking the clear waters that flow to the Anacostia River.

Paint Branch today is the most pristine stream in the entire Anacostia River Basin, according to conservation groups, and the only creek in Montgomery County where the fish spawn naturally.

Along the stream's shaded banks is the large "town" of Cloverly, home to about 9,000 people. To protect the Paint Branch watershed, the Cloverly master plan designated much of the community a "special protection area," ensuring low-density zoning (one house per two acres), additional parkland and limits on development.

There are no multifamily condominiums or apartment buildings within Cloverly's boundaries, according to Paula Nerret, a resident and real estate agent with Weichert. "There are some very small pockets of townhomes that are a part of the communities near Cape May Road," she said. "The rest is all single-family. It ranges from modest Cape Cods and small little ramblers up to, literally, mansions that sell for well above $1 million."

Gently sloping, wooded and sprawling lawns make Cloverly seem farther from the District than it is, 14 miles out New Hampshire Avenue.

"What makes us unique is the wide-open space and the type of people who like the wide-open space," said Mary Hemingway, vice president of the Cloverly Civic Association. "You've got to be willing to take care of the land," she said, "or pay someone to do it. More expensive equipment is involved, and you have to love yardwork."

Mary and Jacob Hemingway paid $25,000 in 1967 for a three-bedroom split level on Snider Lane. She loves the challenge of maintaining the two acres surrounding her home: "I even have my 18-horsepower tractor, but Sears calls it a riding mower."

The semirural nature of the area convinced Nerret and her husband, Art, to move to Cloverly in 1983, when they paid $160,000 for a 3,000-square-foot Colonial on two acres. "It would probably go on the market for $850,000 now," Paula Nerret said. "The land is what's really valuable. These lots originally sold for between $39,000 and $55,000 in the early 1980s, and now land in this area has gone in the $600,000s for a two- to-three-acre lot."

A building boom of worship centers spawned by large-lot zoning has livened up the architectural landscape of Cloverly.

The shiny minaret of Bait-ur-Rahman Mosque looks toward golden onion domes atop St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral. Immanuel's, a nondenominational mega-church, draws thousands of worshipers. An architecturally authentic Cambodian Buddhist temple is said to be the largest outside Cambodia. Traditional dragon tails adorn it, and three pillars grace a gabled roof.

"And then there's something on Norwood Road called Chinmaya Mission," which is a Hindu spiritual organization, Nerret said.

Pastor Charles Schmitt of Immanuel's Church likes to call the spiritual stretch of New Hampshire Avenue "the 10-40 window."

"It's the parallels between 10 degrees north and 40 degrees north," Schmitt said. "Extending from North Africa and going all the way over to Japan, you have many of the great world religions; it's the heart of Islam, it's the heart of Buddhism, it's the heart of Hinduism, it's the heart of Judaism. All of the non-Christian major religions are in the 10-40."

Said Nerret: "Believe it or not, we don't have any synagogues. My next-door neighbor is very religious, and she has to go to services in Wheaton."

Quentin Remein, president of the civic association, has lived in Cloverly since 1980. "Things are pretty quiet right now in Cloverly," he said. "I think the standard issues of Montgomery County concern us. Traffic would be a major one -- maintaining an orderly progress of development."

The environmental protections derailed a proposed northern alignment for the imminent intercounty connector, which would have sliced through Cloverly. The new highway's right of way will form Cloverly's southern boundary, a route the civic association accepted with relief.

Remein is pleased with his surroundings. "[I] built something called a deck house," he said. "Post and beam, with cedar siding that is designed to fit in the environment."

He also described with satisfaction the town's recently renovated and expanded retail core. "I'm very happy with the shopping center," Remein said. "A few years ago, it was probably going to close down, and Safeway was probably going to move out. The community worked very hard to get Safeway to stay."

The retired federal employee said one of Cloverly's treasures is a small but historic African American settlement, known as Holly Grove. Remein said most residents of the square-mile enclave off Norwood Road are descendants of freed slaves.

Mabel Thomas, a retired school administrator, is a homeowner in Holly Grove. "Let me show you why I love this neighborhood. As far as we can see," she said, with a sweep of her arm toward a country lane beside her house, "these are family."

In the 1880s, the seven "patriarchs" of Holly Grove started buying farmland, Thomas said. All the farms bordered Holly Grove Road. A walk down the street's south side is like a peek into the past. Gnarled holly trees, red-berried bittersweet and split-rail fences frame clapboard houses with porches on the front. Some of the homes are tiny cottages.

"This is Quaker country, and Quakers freed their slaves," Thomas explained. "After the Civil War, Quakers were among the few who would sell land to black people."

She said the residents of Holly Grove wouldn't budge after World War II, when developers tried to buy their land at below-market prices. The landowners dug in their heels again in the 1960s, when the county's controversial "community renewal program" tried to relocate them. "They called it neighborhood renewal; we called it 'Negro removal,' " Thomas said with a laugh.

Jean Thomas Moore popped in from down the street and marveled that her own great-grandchild, who lives nearby, is a ninth-generation Montgomery County resident.

Holly Grove "has always been such a nice little place," Moore said. "Some of the younger people who inherited property have sold it, and now we are a mixed community."

Remein said that all of Cloverly has become ethnically and economically diverse, and that the town is enjoying a welcome infusion of culture and the arts.

Through it all, Cloverly has stayed quiet and peaceful, and will remain so, Hemingway said, "as long as we have the Paint Branch."

And as long as a certain little fish thrives in its cool waters.

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