Two blocks from the yet-to-open Metrorail station at Wisconsin Avenue and Old Georgetown Road, where soaring office buildings are slated to transform Bethesda's skyline, is Edgemoor, a tree-shaded community that retains the flavor of Bethesda's rural origins.
"Edgemoor is like a small, friendly town," said Marren Meehan, who, like her neighbors, treasures the close-knit neighborhood nestled in a forest of oaks and hickories. "Other places are livable, but you never see any people. Our neighborhood lends itself to walking, so we see a lot of each other."
Bordered by Arlington Road, Hampden Lane, Elm Street and Wilson Lane, Edgemoor maintains a distinctive atmosphere that its residents cherish. They grow even more protective of their haven as the subway station's opening and construction of the surrounding development draw closer.
"It's one thing to look out your living room window and see a two-story office building; it's another thing to stare at a 20-story building," said Bob Ogren, a long-term resident. "We're talking about changing from a quiet residential community to one on the edge of a big city, bringing with it all the worst aspects, like traffic and noise."
But he said he would never move away, whatever happens.
To stroll down Edgemoor's quiet streets is to pass cozy frame houses surrounded by white picket fences, carriage houses converted to modern homes and perhaps a glimpse of a scarecrow guarding a newly planted garden.
"People appreciate the bucolic setting," said Polly Fleming, who has lived on Hampden Lane with her family for 27 years. "We all share a need for open space with Edgemoor's founder, Walter Tuckerman."
Fleming said Tuckerman, who died in 1961, bought the 180-acre Watkins farm, part of which eventually became Edgemoor. He had grown up in Washington but wanted to raise his children in the country. Tuckerman built the house that stands at 5215 Edgemoor Lane and moved into it in 1913.
But Washington was growing, and Tuckerman began selling land to people for estates and summer houses. The community was called Edgewood, then Edgewood Park. When mail kept going to Edgewood Arsenal in Prince George's County, the name was changed to Edgemoor.
As president of Edgemoor Land Corp., Tuckerman brought in utilities and laid out the streets, naming some after the Back Bay area of Boston where his family lived. He promised pure, soft water from an artesian well, sweet country air and a convenient location, six miles from the White House.
"Tuckerman was proud of Edgemoor's growth," said Liz Hillenbrand, who recalled reminiscing with him. "He told me that you couldn't buy a cup of coffee in Bethesda in 1910; it was all country. But you could get your horses shod at Lochte's blacksmith shop that stood where the Bank of Bethesda stands now. Tuckerman kept a stable full of horses and rode to the hounds off Goldsboro Road.
"He said that since there was no fire department, the neighbors rigged up a contraption with a water tank and hose and 'ran with the old machine,' " Hillenbrand said. "But in the 1920s they needed a fire department, so Tuckerman contributed the land where the Old Georgetown Road firehouse stands now."
Edgemoor's old estates and summer houses share the blocks with more modest dwellings built later, making an architectural mixture that is a reflection of the neighborhood's individuality.
Along with federal workers, doctors and lawyers, the neighborhood has attracted artists, professors, restaurant owners, at least one diplomat and a photographer. Some residents in their nineties live in homes they bought early in the century as newlyweds. When residents move, it's around the corner or down the block but seldom away from the neighborhood.
Peggy Latrobe, a real estate agent who has lived in Edgemoor for 12 years, said houses there usually sell by word of mouth.
"Hardly anyone calls me 'cold turkey,' " she said. "People either live on the outskirts and want to get in, live in a small house and need a larger one or they know someone in the vicinity."
Latrobe said houses in Edgemoor range from $150,000 to $1 million. She is uncertain whether the coming of Metro will increase property values, pointing out that houses in Edgemoor always have been on the high side because of the neighborhood's location and character.
Fleming's yellow frame house, for example, has a rustic setting that suggests a country retreat. Its front porch, where she breakfasts, catches the breeze and is shaded by a stately maple. A photograph on the living room wall shows the house when it was first built, with a Model T in its driveway and chickens in the front yard.
A few blocks away, on Edgemoor Lane, sits the handsome building and grounds of Sidwell Friends School. Most of the neighborhood children attend Bethesda Elementary School, however, and the public school is a factor in Edgemoor's cohesiveness.
"Parents closest to the school tend to give more time, and we have a dedicated bunch who knows how important the school is to the neighborbood," said Louise Jackson, organizer of the school's noon art program. "The parents run a math lab, throw a terrific May Fair and band together at the slightest hint that the school board is considering closing the school."
Besides the school, another cause unites the community: preserving the neighborhood amidst the development Metro will bring.
"We know that downtown Bethesda is going to be a city, but we don't want to lose all the flavor of old Bethesda," said Helen Blunt, a former president of the Edgemoor Citizens Association, which for years has been the neighborhood's guardian. "So we work for amenities, like the cafes, fountains and an ice skating rink that will be built among the 18-story office buildings approved by the Montgomery County Planning Board.
"And now we're pushing for an underground walkway and pathways around the station, so that the kids who go to Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School can get there safely."
"We're a vigilant group when it comes to protecting Edgemoor," said Bob Ogren, another Edgemoor resident. "We keep reminding the County Council to limit the development of the residential area between Arlington Road and Wisconsin Avenue and we have a buffer, the park and the library, on the west side of Arlington, so I guess we've been pretty successful so far."
Other residents welcome Metro, however, believing it will enhance the neighborhood's convenience.
"Some people get hysterical about the development's effects on us, but we have a strong enough civic base so that we don't have to worry about being overwhelmed," said Jane Odle, who lives next to Ogren. "Maybe we'll have to permit parking in a few years, but that's a small price to pay for being able to walk to the subway."
The focal point of Edgemoor is the 62-year-old Edgemoor Tennis Club at 7415 Exeter Rd., within walking distance of the community's approximately 600 houses.
"The club makes the neighborhood," said Kathleen Lamberti, who ran the club's junior tennis program. "It's the gathering place for everyone, eight months of the year."
Members say they like the club's unpretentiousness. Eight tennis courts and a swimming pool hug a modest brick clubhouse. Bicycles lean against a chain-link fence.
When spring arrives, the members paint the old-fashioned lawn chairs dark green, prune bushes and plant flowers. The youngsters prepare and maintain the courts and cook hot dogs and hamburgers in a tiny snack bar.
"The club is governed and run by the members," Lamberti said. "Everyone looks forward to April, when we can exercise our winter-weary bones and see more of each other."
Lamberti said traditional gatherings, such as the new members party, Fourth of July and Labor Day, give structure to the summer. On hot nights, cheering for the swim team can be heard for blocks, and tennis matches draw partisan crowds.
Some of Washington's fiercest competitors do battle in this peaceful setting. Both Donald Dell, who grew up in the neighborhood and was national boys' champion and Davis Cup team captain, and Pauline Betz Addie, twice a winner at Wimbledon, are members. Jan Shelburne, the area's best young woman player, also plays there.
"It doesn't help to be rich and famous to get in," said Bob Allnutt, former membership chairman. "This is mainly a neighborhood club. It all depends on which list your name is on. The best is to live in the neighborhood; the worst is the 'rest of the universe' list."
Things have changed since 1920, when cows grazed in the pastures surrounding the club's two tennis courts, women members served refreshments on Saturday afternoons and dues were $15 a year.
During the Depression, the club stayed afloat by inviting the area's leading players to join. One member paid his dues with a player piano, and Tuckerman, who held the mortgage, was lenient. The club persevered and so will the neighborhood because, as Fleming observes, "everybody cares."