During the past 25 years, more than 2,000 students from 98 countries and every state in the union have sprinted up the three flights of steps into the large Victorian home in Mount Pleasant, high off the street at 1855 Irving Street.

They have lounged in the comfortable parlor, played the baby grand piano and contributed souvenirs to the clutter they left behind.

Most are foreign students who have taken their first steps in a new country under the watchful eyes of Emma T. Watts whose home they share as boarders.

Watts, 79, proudly shows an old guest book signed by the boarders who left messages such as "This was my home away from home," and "I love you very much."

Out of large manila envelope, she retrieves a United Nations map of the world with national flags, and pointed to the numerous signatures students had affixed near the flags of their countries.

Watts, who never married, confides in the cadence of her Kentucky childhood that inviting students into her home has been a way of softening the sharp edges of loneliness.

"There are too many lovely people in the world for me to live alone," she says." I've tried to treat all the students as my friends."

For the boarders, living in "Miss Watts'" home is a way to escape isolation in a strange city. Many of them eat breakfast and dinner together. The two meals five days a week, plus a Saturday brunch, costs a boarder with a roommate $250 a month. Otherwise, rooms are $10 and $15 a day.

"I like this place. I like the atmophere. I like talking to people," P.O. Oglegba of Nigeria, here to study business management, said.

"I think Miss Watts really wanted to help the students and it was her whole being," added Barbara Brickner, who chose to stay in the boarding house until she could find her own apartment.

"She worries about you and takes a real interest," Brickner said, just having whiled away a morning chatting with Watts in the parlor.

"This place has a way of reminding me of my grandparents' home," said Jason Williams, 18, of Little Rock, Ark., who came to Washington several months ago for a congressional intership.

Watts, who is cinfined with lung cancer, has turned over the daily operation of the boarding house to her niece and nephew, Emma and Jimmy Jackson. Now, she mostly rests in bed beneath two quilts -- one her mother crafted from bits of apron and leftover fabric more than 50 years ago, the other she sewed when she was a teenager.

Watts often gets long-distance telephone calls from former boarders from as far away as Venezuela. Sometimes they drop in. She doesn't remember them all. They change, she says.

One recently asked if she remembered him -- he was the one, he offered, who kept nuts in his pocket for the squirrels. Watts had to shake her head sorrowfully.

"How can I remember all of them?" she said, almost apologizing. Since Watts originally opened the boarding house in 1954, she has bought the adjacent two homes and expanded to a capacity of 45 boarders. The rules haven't changed -- no liquor in the rooms and no smoking in the parlor.

"I didn't want a slum. I've had nothing but the best people," she said.

Watts is proud that she has never put in a day of advertising. She contacted local schools and colleges and told them about the boarding house, officially called Park View Residence. They have been sending students to her ever since.

She's had problems with only a few.

For example, several years ago a new boarder asked her to send the maid to flush the toilet for him. In his country, he explained, servants do that.

"Well, I told him to turn around and do that for himself," Watts said. "And I told him to go upstairs, pack up his things and leave."

Watts, a religious woman, often took several students to the Mt. Vernon Place United Methodist Church on Massachusetts Avenue for Sunday worship.

Several Bibles and inspriational books are in her bedroom. She said she recites the same prayer every night: "Lord, bless everyone who has been this way. The ones that are here, and the ones that are coming."