Where We Live

A World Unwinding Out There in Baden

By Jim Brocker
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, March 7, 2009

Baden residents say their rural Prince George's community, tucked into the county's southeast corner away from the surrounding, dense suburbia, is more than a place to live -- it's a lifestyle worth preserving.

Rolling two-lane roads fan out through farms and fields, and five-acre lots are required for single-family homes, attracting people who enjoy space and a less hectic pace. County and state programs encourage landowners to keep the area rural, and residents have fought against development they worry could create more traffic.

The volunteer fire department is home to dinners, dances, citizen meetings and card games. A complex attached to Baden Elementary School features a community center, library and health clinic. The community has a handful of businesses and churches, as well as a few small markets, but residents are a long way from the big-box stores. This is country.

In recent years, subdivisions with stately brick-fronted houses have popped up between the farmhouses and barns, and roughly 1,600 people now call the area home, according to Lindsay Smith of the Prince George's County Planning Department. Baden is about 20 minutes from the commercial centers of Waldorf and Clinton, and many residents like it that way.

"We don't call it an inconvenience. It's just a nice way of life," said Virginia Stallings, 85, a civic leader who has lived in the area since 1951.

But adapting to the isolation can take some adjustment.

"When I moved here, I cried every day," said Wanda Gryszkiewicz, a former Fort Washington resident who arrived in the Baden area with her husband in 1984. "But I wouldn't leave this area now if I had to." Gryszkiewicz is an official with the growing Baden Aquasco Little League, which has about 240 youngsters and struggles with a shortage of playing fields.

Many of the longtime residents embrace the laid-back atmosphere. "I've been to different parts of the country. I've found no better place to go," said Wendell O. Lee, 55, a lifelong resident who stopped one afternoon to give blood at the Baden Volunteer Fire Department, a regular event sponsored by the Brandywine Lions Club. Lee's parents grew up in the area, and he works at the Adams Funeral Home.

"I think people have a certain amount of respect for each other and look out for each other," said Richard Neiser of the nearby Brandywine area, who also dropped by to give blood. "When you watch the functions at the firehouse, you can see it's like a family-type thing."

Those families have lived in the Baden area for generations. Robert "Buddy" Boswell, 59, a former Baden fire chief, averages a few hundred calls a year with the department and lives on 30 acres three minutes from the firehouse. Of the volunteers, Boswell said: "It's still family. Lot of husband-and-wife teams. And then their kids come in here." When Boswell's daughter Wendy was young, she rode with him in the chief's car, he said. Now she is chief of the department.

Claire Watson, 70, belongs to the auxiliary that operates the VFD's kitchen for special events. The department "has been the center of this community for many years, and there's hardly a week that goes by without some kind of activity," she said.

Watson's five sisters and her son live on her parents' original property off Croom Road. Although few area farmers now grow tobacco, Watson and fellow auxiliary member Louise Riess, 78, say their families harvest corn, soybeans and wheat.

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