The Emory Grove United Methodist Church, built more than a century ago, stands on one corner of the Emory Grove Road and Maryland Rte. 124 intersection; about two miles east of Gaithersburg.
Weeds and bushes grow on land across from the church, a site where residents hope the county soon will build a recreation center and swimming pool.
And across from the empty lot and the church, four run-down garden apartment complexes and a moderate-income housing subdivision, home to about 1,500 people, sit like ducks in a row.
The apartments and the subdivision were constructed under a federal urban renewal program designed to rejuvenate the old community, but the apartment buildings already are showing signs of decay themselves.
The beginning of urban renewal came to this mostly low-income community, located in the middle of Montgomery County affluence, in the 1960s. High hopes and dreams for a better life came with it. But most residents did not foresse that urban renewal also would bring changes that would disrupt and forever change what had been a tiny, closely knit world of 500 people.
The community was founded in the lalte 1700s by freed slaves from nearby farms. Teachers, government workers, farmers and the unemployed, almost all of them black, lived together along the state route or on unpaved back roads.
Today, Emory Grove isn't what it used to be.
A park now sits where summertime camp meetings once were held. The annual gatherings drew as many as 10,000 people from as far away as Detroit and featured everything from preaching to baseball games.
William Duvall's Du-Drop-in, which he jokingly referred to recently as "the cultural arts center of Montgomery County," will be torn down within the next year or two to make way for the proposed recreation center.
The church will reamin standing, but few of its members still live in Emory Grove.
Urban renewal improved living conditions, both residents and county officials agree.
In the past, few houses had running water; almost none had sewer facilities. Half of the families owned land, while the rest rented tiny plots. Some residents lived in crowdedd shacks without electricity.
But those days also had some redeeming values.
"Everyone used to be like family here," said Raymond Prather, 32, a native of the town."If you were at someone's house around supper time, they would practically force you to sit down and eat with them.
"If there was any way to undo it, I'd give up having a bathroom to raise my kids like I grew up," sighed Prather, the father of four. "We lived a quiet life here and now all that has changed."
His cousins, friends and grandmother all owned houses on several acres of now-vacant land. Prather now lives in Amity Gardens, a 50-unit apartment house where most of the tenants come from other parts of the county and do not share the heritage of Emory Grove.
The impetus for Emory Grove's renewal came 22 years ago when the county passed an ordinance requiuring all homes to have piped-in water and sewage lines.
"We tried at first to get the county or the WSSC to come in with sewer lines," said Duvall, one of the community's chief organizers. "But there was no way they could do it with the houses like they were."
Emory Grove land is rocky, and the WSSC, according to Duvall, would not agree to spend the money on sewage lines for such a small number of homes.
Since they could not afford the cost, which would run more than $1 million, or having the work done themselves, residents formed a civiv association and decided in 1965 that urban renewal was their only choice.
"I was one of the people who decided urban renewal was the way out," said Ruize Tyler, who grew up in Emory Grove and owned the community's only grocery store. "It was a nice old community, but the houses were unbearable. We knew it couldn't be any halfway job."
After a three-year study, the county's Department of Housing and Community Development desiginated a 160-acre urban renewal area and applied for federal funds. It was another three years, or until 1971, before the county purchased the first tract of land.
"Each property has to be appraised twice," said Bill Owens," the department's real estate specialist, explaining the urban renewal land acquisition process. "Then recommendations on the price are given to the chief administrative officer. Once we have the land, we draw up new subdivisions and work on any zoning changes."
The size and location of the land and the condition of the house sitting on it determine the price, so there is no "typical" county purchase, according to Vic Brescia, a division chief with the community development agency. In total the county paid about $2 million for the 160-acre area.
"We were given a good price," said Duvall, who now rents his tavern property from the county. "But there were two problems. First, you had all the people who didn't own and land so they wouldn't get any money anyhow. Then there were the folks who had homes that needn't have been torn down. But when they saw how much money they could get, they were the first to sell."
As an example, he cited the price of $168,500 paid for three acres of land and one commercial building on it.
Twenty-four homes had the facilities required under the county code.
"These people were the core of the community," said Duvall. "When they left, things went sour."
Most bought homes elsewhere in the county.
Tyler, his wife and nephew moved in 1958, although they continued to run the store and attend the church in Emory Grove. Tyler now sells real estate.
"It's a question of choice for a lot of people," he said. "It's not necessarily that people got the money and just left. Some of them wanted to leave before and this gave them the chance."
Raymond Prather's mother Eleanor moved to a modern home in Gaithersburg after selling her house in Emory Grove. But she says she wishes she lived back in Emory Grove.
"I fell like I gave away part of my heritage," she said. "That's my home; I wish I were back there. Now all the older residents have moved and Emory Grove has a bad name with who's left."
Twelve years ago the citizens estimated that 40 families would need substantial help in finding replacement housing. From this request sprang the 250 rental units in four different apartment complexes along Route 124.
"To receive federal funds (through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), we had to provide housing for these people within one-half mile of where they used to live," explained the county housing agency's Brescia. "We built two commplexes with fifty units each. Then developers came in, applied to HUD for help and built the rest on their own."
Washington Square and Emory Grove Village, two townhouse developments, are the two county-assisted projects completed about eight years ago. Amity Gardens and Emory Grove Court were built by private developers with the help of low-interest HUD loans.
County and federal programs subsidize rents in all four buildings.
"We know now this concentration of low-income units isn't good," admitted Brescia. "But back then there was no review process if a private developer wanted to build. We've learned a lesson."
Mill Creek Forest, a moderate-income development of 150 single-family homes just east of the apartments, has been completed in the past year. Part of the initial urban renewal project, the homes were to sell in 1971 for $21,500.
They were not completed until nearly 10 years later, however, because of a series of bureaucratic delays. As a result, the price has doubled.
"The problem is pricing," said Owens. "These houses would have been less money if they were built 10 years ago. Many of the former residents just can't afford to buy them."
"Black people live in the apartments and white people live in the houses," said Raymond Prather. "Emory Grove residents were supposed to get first shot at the houses, but I'll bet you there's hardly any living there now.
"I don't have any quarrel with the houses themselves," he added. "Everyone has to live somewhere. But my basic gripe is that the (original) community can't afford to live there."
While blacks and whites live in both Mill Creek Forest and the apartments, Prather's observation is largely correct.
At least some of the proposed moderat-income housing will probably not be built. The land at the intersection of Emory Grove Road and Rte. 124, across from the developments, was originally designated for more single family homes.
Instead, at a public hearing last week, residents and County Executive Charles Gilchrist asked the County Council, which must approve any change in an urban renewal plan, to build a regional pool and recreation center on the site.
County officials had proposed building the pool about a mile away, in the more affluent Shady Grove area.
If the council approves the change this month, the pool can be open by June 1983, according to Pete Holt, a planner with the county.
"The rec center will give us something to do," said lifelong resident Ronnie Neal, 26, as he stood in the parking lot of Emory Grove Village one day last week. Dozens of people sat in cars or on the curb of the lot. Music blared from some of the apartments.
"Parents don't care what happens to their kids, and 4-year-olds will look at you and just cuss you out. Now there's all sort of crime and drugs here. The police get you for marijuana and leave the hard stuff alone," he said.
"Let's face it, we have a problem," said Sgt. Richard Williams of the Montgomery County police. "Some people say the police don't do enough there. Others say we're around too much. We're trying to establish a dialogue, but its not easy.
"Emory Grove tends to be a drawing place for people from all over the area," he continued. "Many of the people we arrest there are visiting or just hanging out. The parking lot (next to Emory Grove Village) and the park (on the other side of Rte. 124) are used as meeting places, and they're used to trade drugs and shoot craps, too."
"There was never any crime here," said James Grooms, a longtime resident who now lives in Washington Square. "No one had to lock their doors." As he talked, he taped plastic on one of his car's windows, which someone had broken the morning before.
"I'm not saying urban renewal caused all our problems," said Raymond Prather. "But our community was dissected. The whole style and mood around here has completely changed."