At the town's tiny post office the workers hand out lollipops to children and telephone residents when a letter arrives "which looks really important." Neighbors call each other by name and houses come on the market only at four-or five-year intervals.
Garbage trucks course through the winding streets at least twice a week - more often when needed - and when one is late the mayor hears about it.
The site of these small-town qualities is Glen Echo, Md., located 15 minutes from downtown Washington, within jogging distance of Massachusetts Avenue and Goldsboro Road in Montgomery County.
Glen Echo is a town of 82 houses and 298 people snuggled in between MacArthur Boulevard and the Potomac River in the nation's second wealthiest county. It is an anachronistic chip in an age of cookie-cutter communities that time has treated gently and developers have been unable to seduce.
"My wife and I wouldn't want to live in any other place," said David W. Fessenden, 68, a retired Labor Department employee who has lived in Glen Echo for 35 years. "The town is quiet, and hasn't changed very much in all these years. When someone is sick the neighbors go over with a dish of food, wanting to know if they can help," he said.
The secret to the stability of the town, which is 1.2 miles long and one-fifth of a mile wide, is the fact that it is incorporated and can control growth within its boundaries.
"About once a year some developer comes to the Council wanting to put it town houses or apartments," said Paul Alban, 58, the town's unsalaried mayor who works for the Defense Mapping Agency. "We always vote them down," he said.
That ability to determine zoning proved decisive to the town's future in the late 1960s, when the owners of the 19-acre tract known as the Glen Echo Amusement Park, right in the middle of town, proposed constructing hundreds of high-rise apartments.
"We defeated that in the Town Council," said Frank G. Corder, 57, who like most residents has served on the Council at one time or another. "And we also defeated a threat to put in a 7-Eleven store, plus got a bar closed down that was really turning into a nuisance," he said.
The area was developed in the 1880s as the site of second and summer homes for wealthy Washingtonians, according to Richard Cook, 23, an amateur historian.
"A trolley line ran up Conduit (now MacArthur) Boulevard from Washington, and there was also a spur of the B & O railroad. A branch of the National Chautauqua movement was established at Glen Echo park as a lure for prospective land buyers," he said.
The Chautauqua was a semi-religious movement founded in New England designed to bring art and culture to the masses.At the park a Hall of Philosophy and an Academy of Fine Arts were built. Women in flowing white gowns and bearded men in top hats gave lectures and recitals, according to the documents.
Art and commerce met at the Glen Echo Cafe, where people who attended the lectures could meet land salesmen over a cool glass of lemonade. In the "back to nature" spirit of the times, the cafe was known as "Paw-taw-o-Mack," which means River of the Tribes, and its main dining room was called "Wish-ton-wish," which means Whippoorwill, according to Cook.
The $70,000 cafe didn't last long, however. Made of 30,000 unhewn cedar logs, it opened on July 25, 1890, and burned to the ground three months later, on Oct. 29, said Cook, whose own collection of Glen Echo artifacts will open in May at a turreted park building.
Land in the area sold well, in part because of the park, and in part because of the park, and in part because of the stunning views of the Potomac afforded by the sloping hills. An additional attraction was the presence of Clara Barton, the founder of the American National Red Cross, whose enormous home adjacent to the park is now run by the Park Service.
Glen Echo who incorporated at the turn of the century, although the Chautauqua itself folded its tents and retreated into history in 1903.
"Residents never resented the park even with its carousel (which still exists) and rides, because it brought in significant tax revenues," Cook said. Gradually, however, the tempo and gaudiness of the place increased, although townspeople, secure on their elm-shaded streets, tried not to notice.
By World War II, however, there were horror rides, bump-car areas and a stall where a bean bag could be thrown at a picture of Adolph Hitler (war rationing cut off the supply of ammunition to the rifle gallery, according to news reports).
There were also fights between soldiers and sailors, zoot-suited kids hanging around the "Spanish Ballroom," where dance music played inside, the broken beer bottles near what was once the Hall of Philosophy.
Few people bought or built in the area, which was regarded as too far from Washington for commuting, and too near for a vacation home.
On Easter Monday, 1966, fights broke out between black and white teen-agers, many of whom streamed up Goldsboro Road and Massachusetts Avenue, trashing homes and automobiles. The park, which had been experiencing declining attendance for years, never reopened.
"The park's owner, the Rekab Corp., proposed building an office complex near the Barton House, and high-rise apartments nearby, development which would have radically altered the nature of the town," explained Mayor Alban. The Council swatted that proposal down, refusing to change the zoning restrictions permitting only single-family residential structures, he said.
The park was unused until 1971, when the General Services Administration obtained ownership in a straight land swap with the Rekab Corp., giving the company a parcel of downtown Washington land that has since been developed.
On Mar. 22, 1976, the property was formally turned over to the Park Service, which had been managing it since 1971.
"We feel government ownership protects the Potomac, the C & O Canal and the George Washington Parkway (which runs across one side of the town)," said Dick Ring, 29, the Park Service's site manager for the project. "And we think we are returning the park to the spirit it had in its Chautauqua days, the development of arts and culture," he added.
Currently, 53 artists teach nearly 100 classes to more than 700 people at the park, Ring said. The eight-page catalog lists everything from clogging (a type of Appalachian folk dance), to basic printmaking, to bicycle repair and maintenance. Tuition is paid directly to the instructors and ranges from $18 to $70. The Park Service donates the use of the facilities.
"The combination of programs here is unique on the East Coast," said Jake Barrow, 29, who runs a woodworking class with his brother, Henry. "You might be able to find one or two classes in one or two fields, but the tuition would be at least twice as much. With artists, sculptors, potters and writers all nearby, a tremendous exchange of energy takes place," he said.
The relaxed Park Service administration also encourages a funky kind of catch-as-catch-can spirit. For example, the stained glass workshop is housed inside a yurt.
"A yurt is a Mongolian structure which the nomadic tribes could set up quickly during their travels," said Beverly Chapman, 27, the park's program director. The Park Service commissioned from for use on the Washington Mall several years ago and later donated six of them to the park, she said.
Because their roofs are traditionally covered with grass, the roofs of the yurts must now be periodically trimmed, she added.
The budding renaissance at the park may be short-lived, however, if several hundred thousand dollars is not allocated by the government to bring various studios and buildings up to county building and safety code standards, several artists complained.
Site manager Ring confirmed that the Park Service is considering closing down the year-round facilities and making them available to artists only during the summer. No decision has yet been reached, he said.
Glen Echo itself is once again doing nicely. The spring flowers are in bloom, and residents are hopeful that an outbreak of Dutch Elm disease which has already cost them 15 trees can be contained.
Houses on a tiny 25-by-50 feet plot sell for $50,000 and up, and the area is being "discovered" by real estate investors, neighbors said. One man reported people knocking on his door to see if he knew of any homes for sale. He didn't.
The town's few commercial establishments include Trav's Inn, a bar for serious drinkers, a grocery store, and the U.S. Post Office. Community spirit has always centered around the Post Office, because the town wasn't big enough to warrant home mail delivery until 1963.
Now, the six federal employees pay for holiday decorations out of their own pockets (paper shamrocks for St. Patrick's Day). The women wore long dresses on the Bicentennial Fourth of July.
Janice Miller, 57, an area resident since 1935, and the person in charge of the Post Office now, likes to make sure candy is always available for the kids, and once dressed up in late December as the Christmas Angel.
"But when Thanksgiving comes I'm not going to dress up as a turkey," she swears.
"We like being friendly to people here," she said. "We think that's the neighborly way to be."