"What was that war? It wasn't the Civil War . . . . No, it was the Spanish-American War," she says, thinking back to her childhood.

Clear, blue-grey eyes gaze off into the distance as she speaks fondly, in a fine soft voice, of the "farm near the Naval Gun Factory, on the other side of the Anacostia River," where she was delivered by a midwife of January of 1886.

Esther R. Symonds, a native Washingtonian, who remembers a Washington filled with "streetcars and horses," is also fond of her new home, Leafy House, to which she moved after living at the Woodner Hotel for 22 years.

Set in the woods, as its name would imply, Leafy House recently opened as a residential facility for the elderly and handicapped.It is the Capitol View section of Silver Spring and houses 187 persons.

Acting Gov. Blair Lee III, citing Leafy House as a "classic example of what the public and private sectors can accomplish in providing adequate housing for our elderly population," addressed the audience of almost 300 persons who turned out last Saturday for the formal dedication of the midrise apartment building.

Lee, presenting the residents with a Maryland flag, and Rep. Newton I. Steers Jr. (R-Md.), presenting American flag, highlighted the ceremony in which a bronze dedication plaque was unveiled. After the ceremony there was a reception in the community room, and tours of the cheerfully painted and carpeted building.

Built at a cost of $4.9 million, Leafy House, which opened on March 22, is a 180-unit, six-story building with a terrace levels. It was built primarily with the federal funds by Leafy House Inc., a five-member, non-profit board made up of members of the National Association of Retired Federal Employees and Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission.

It is managed bythe Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission under a one-year contract which probably will be renewed upon expiration next March, said Leafy House Inc. Board Chairman Francis M. Leahy.

The building, designed to accommodate the elderly and handicapped, has handrails lining each corridor and extra-wide doors for people confined to wheelchairs.

Elevator buttons are low enough for wheelchair-confined persons ro reach aud there are braille symbols next to each button. The buttons and the floor indicators light up, aiding the deaf. As each floor is passed, a bell rings so a blind person can keep a count of floor numbers.

Bertha Smith, a senior braille assistant at the Library of Congress, is the only blind person living in the building. She, her husband Zandel and her seeing-eye dog Tanyia moved into Leafy House in April from an apaertment in Wheaton because they wanted to be with people their age.

Smith, who reviews books for the Library of Congress collection for the blind, and her husband, a part-time optician, say they are pleased with their new apartment. Their only complaint is that it is a bit cramped compared to their previous apartment, which was larger.They live on the terrace level, where Mrs. Smith and Tanyia can get out easily.

Mrs. Smith who is "not yet 65" is an avid bridge player, as are a number of other tenants. For those who do not play bridge, there is a community room, a hobby room, an open-space room and a billards room on the terrace level and a beauty/barber shop and a library/lounge on the first floor.

Nineteen apartments are specially designed for residents with limited mobility. Special features in these apartments include: low-pile carpeting (for low resistance to the wheels of wheelchairs), bathroom mirrors which are inclined so that a seated person may view his or herself, a shower equipped with a seat and rails, inclined floors to make movement to and from rooms easier, low clothing rods in the closets and kitchen sinks with cut-away sections beneath them so that tenants may wheel right up to them to do the dishes.

In addition, all apartments are equipped with smoke detectors, fire sprinklers, fully-railed bathrooms and emergency pull cords to summon the resident manager.

Still, there are problems. Bertha Talley, 54, who has been confined to wheelchair since 1954 because of polio, says that the thermostat and the kitchen cabinets are too high.

She had lived in a house in Darnestown for 24 years prior to moving to Leafy House. But her husband died two years ago, and she found it hard to manage by herself.

She also finds it difficult to open the front door, but says she has been told this cannot be remedied because fire regulations require a minimum door tension. Talley, one of the youngest tenants, says that nevertheless, she is pleased with her new living arrangements.

Mr. and Mrs. Chapin Ying moved into their third-floor apartment the day the building opened. The Yings say they like Leafy House except for the requirement that all tenants eat at least one meal a day in the central dining room.

Since they left Taiwan in 1972, when Mr. Ying, now 69, retired from his job with the Taiwan government, they had been living with three of their children in the Washington area.

Mr. Ying, who works part-time at the Chinese Christian Church in Silver Spring says that he and his wife are "used to Chinese food" and find the food in the dining room only "fair." They did say, though, that eating with the other residents allowed them to meet people.

Fifty residents are in the sheltered housing program which provides three meals a day, housekeeping and personal services at a cost of $212 a month per person. This is in addition to monthly rent which ranges, for all tenants, from $179 to $187, or 25 percent ofthe resident's income, whichever is greater.