Lincoln began with great promise almost 80 years ago as a black suburban community platted along the Washington, Baltimore & Annapolis Electric Railway in what were then the rural wilds of Prince George's County.

But more recently, residents of the still predominantly black subdivision have been struggling to catch up with modern times, trying to get all of their roads paved, a local swamp drained and an old school building converted into a community center. Residents complain that they have gotten short shrift from county officials, who say their intentions are good but funds are tight.

The latest blow came early this month when the county sold the school building, which dates to 1922, to an outside church group.

Prince George's park and recreation officials, besieged with requests for community centers, said they did not have enough funds to buy and remodel the surplus school, which the county sold for $475,000.

"We took a look at it," said Richard Stevenson, associate planning board director. "There is nothing in our capital improvement program next year for Lincoln."

"I personally was very disappointed," said Dilcee Darr, a retired federal employe who lives two houses from the old school and looked forward to its use as an educational and entertainment center for the community. The sale has intensified the frustrations of residents of unincorporated Lincoln, a collection of about 75 homes on about a dozen streets north of Rte. 450 and west of Glenn Dale Road.

County officials say they are paving what they can when they can with available funds, but many gravel and dirt streets remain. They add that the county does little paving anymore, because developers are now responsible for street paving in new subdivisions. Lincoln's existence predates such rules.

Such explanations do not satisfy the residents of the community.

"This has been a neglected area for years," said Earl Bracey, president of the Lincoln-Vista Civic Association and a 28-year resident of the community whose unpaved streets seem incongruous just two miles beyond the Capital Beltway.

The community was founded in 1908 by Thomas J. Calloway, an associate of Booker T. Washington and a lawyer and developer.

Calloway's purpose was, he said, "to establish without restriction as to race, but primarily by, for and of colored persons, a community with its own municipal government, schools, churches, commercial and industrial life."

At one time, Lincoln had its own water system, gas plant, brick factory and a community park and lake. Hundreds of lots were platted, but growth has been slow. Now, about half a dozen new homes are under construction.

Gloria Prather has lived in Lincoln for 24 years. Since she moved in, she has been calling county officials in an effort to get her street paved. "We're still waiting," said Prather, an elementary schoolteacher. " . . . First, I attributed it to the fact there were not enough houses on the block. But now, there are so many houses, I'm beginning to believe it's because the community is predominantly black. It's hard to say."

She said the county owes her such services for the nearly $1,900 she and her husband pay annually in property taxes on their house, which was appraised last year at $190,000. "We're going to keep calling," she said.

Ruby Richardson, a management assistant in the tax division of the U.S. Justice Department, lives at one end of unpaved and rutted Glen Avenue. She said it gets so muddy when it rains that her husband bought a four-wheel drive truck "so we can get out from here."

At the other end of Glen Avenue lives Forrest (Chuck) Nance, 52, who has also campaigned to get the county to pave the street. "The county will spend thousands building a boardwalk over the pond at Upper Marlboro when the citizenry here doesn't have paved streets," he said.

Nance and his neighbors also have complained about a nearby swampy area. Ruby Richardson, who lives next to it, said the mosquitos are so bad in summertime she cannot sit outside. Nance said the algae that grow there give off a powerful stench.

"It's a wonder the whole community doesn't come down with diphtheria or malaria," he said. But the Maryland Water Resources Administration said in a Nov. 21 letter to Bell that the algae is there as part of a natural "organic process" and, therefore, is beyond its jurisdiction, "as the problem is not related to any man-made activity."

Nance's place, where he raises egg-laying hens and proudly displays an American flag, sits on a rise above the old railway roadbed, which the county has turned into a wide paved boulevard. At its northern end, Electric Avenue, as the old right-of-way is now called, empties into Glenn Dale Road, providing access to Lincoln when Folly Branch floods Baltimore Lane, the only other way into the community.

To the south, Electric Avenue ends in a gravel lane where Anthony (George) and Susie Herbert live. Anthony Herbert, 92, is the oldest resident of Lincoln. His father worked at the U.S. Patent Office in Washington and farmed a 40-acre tract here before the town was built. Herbert has vivid memories of Lincoln founder Calloway and of the railroad, for which he worked maintaining stations and "walking the track," checking for loose rails and spikes, between Lincoln and Glenarden, another black commuter suburb developed along the trolley line.

The school became the centerpiece of the community, recalled Edna Jackson, 74, whose mother was one of the first teachers. Jackson, who also became an educator, lives in one of half a dozen old homes on Lottsford-Vista Road just south of Annapolis Road, in a related section known as Vista.

The Lincoln school closed after desegregation, then was used for a variety of purposes, such as a media center and for classes in English as a second language. Briefly, it was rented to a private academy, which defaulted on its rent. Finally, the county declared it surplus property.

In August, the local civic association asked the Prince George's County planning board to acquire the building and to turn it into a recreational center for the community. The civic association's proposal called for a wide variety of uses, including programs for senior citizens, supervised day care and adult education classes.

"We'd been besieged by a lot of groups to put community centers around the county," said Stevenson, the park and planning board official. "There is no rational plan" for using surplus schools as centers. "We thought we should stop and think about it rather than take on more schools."

Frank J. Geraci, county property specialist, said, "We held up the contract until we knew what park and planning intended. We would have liked the community to have it. Unfortunately, park and planning rejected it."

On Jan. 3, county officials approved the sale to the Lighthouse Bibleways Church Worldwide, which Geraci said plans to operate a school there.