After Dr. John Peach built his Mitchellville farm house in 1869, the Prince George's County physician used to say that his great-grandchildren would live to see the day when Washington, Baltimore and Annapolis meet.

Today, the country doctor's old house and a group of trees next to it, including the nation's largest, or champion, pin oak, sit in the middle of the new megalopolis he foresaw, 18 miles from Washington, 24 from Baltimore.

And, located in a parcel of land strategically close to Rtes. 50, 197 (Collington Road) and 301, the Peach house and trees have become focal points in a controversy over metropolitan growth and the vanishing past.

A high-density development of 1,500 residential units and a large shopping center are proposed for the heavily wooded site near the planned Bowie New Town Center, the future Maryland Science and Technology Center and a superlibrary that is slated to be built for area universities.

To scale things down just a bit, county preservationists are seeking to save the old house and its surrounding trees and lawns. "There was a time when almost any development was 'good' development," sighed the developer's attorney Paul Rodbell. "But that was 25 years ago."

The Artery Organization of Bethesda, Rodbell's client and one of two developers for the 221-acre tract, is not keen on keeping the old house.

It has agreed to make the ivy-covered pin oak the parking lot centerpiece -- an "urban park" in the middle of its new 20-acre Pin Oak Village Shopping Center. Artery also has offered to relocate the house if the county would then take it over.

The county historic preservation commission last month gave the house landmark status, seemingly limiting the developer's rights to raze or remove it, but Artery has appealed that finding to the County Council.

The preservationists also want more ground set aside for the house and trees.

"The proposed environmental setting has been twice reduced," the historic preservation commission noted. An acre is "the minimum that will retain the character of the farm house setting."

Last week, the county planning staff agreed that the rest of the huge development should be allowed to proceed, even though the future of the house and trees is unresolved. The Planning Board is to continue hearing testimony today.

Lydie Peach Price, the original owner's granddaughter, lives in the house with her dog Samantha.

"I love this place very much, but I didn't want {to be around} what's coming up the road," she said of the growth.

"It's going to be all around," she said. "It's coming and we're going to be right next to commercial. What are they going to do with an old house like this? Move it?"

She thinks it's time for the house, substantially altered over the years, to go. A large wing was added in 1882, the original interior has been modernized and the outside covered with aluminum siding.

Only two ornamental fireplace mantles and a staircase remain of the original interior, she said. While the building has been hailed by preservationists as a good example of "Victorian vernacular" that could easily be restored to its 19th century appearance, Price said it's just an old house that will be out of place in the midst of new development.

"I would hate to come by and see the house in the middle of town houses and commercial" development, said Price, 68, who has lived there all her life. "I would rather see it torn down. The atmosphere won't be the same.

"It's almost sacrilege {to save it}. It's just like when a person dies, you don't stand him up and keep looking at him."

Dr. Peach lived at the house until his death in 1925. His son, Lydie Price's father, John Franklin Peach, lived and died there, in 1948.

The Peach property was rezoned in 1975 at the request of Albert Turner Jr., a major postwar developer in Prince George's County. The new zoning allowed a higher density, officials say, than would likely be allowed today in an era of more controlled growth. But Turner never exercised his option to build.

"We've been for quite a few years in and out of a number of contracts for one reason or another," Price said. "Artery came to us. It was the right time."

Immediately around the old house are the cluster of champion trees some are fighting to save. Besides the national pin oak, there are the county champion linden, the county champion dogwood and the second largest or reserve county champion red maple. Ribbons identifying them as special are wrapped around their trunks.

Dennis Riordan, Artery senior vice president, said the pin oak will stay put and his firm is willing to "incorporate those {other trees} that can be saved" within its parking lot park, even moving two at a cost of $35,000 each.

But saving the house and trees "in their current locations" presents Artery with a "unique public relations opportunity," wrote Irene Robb, chairman of the county historical and cultural trust. It could be done, she said, by slashing 115 parking spaces from the 595 now planned for the shopping center.

As to the house, Robb suggested it be turned into a "white linen tablecloth restaurant," appropriately named "The Peach House." Or, she said, it could be a real estate or insurance office, antiques shop, book store or flower shop. For starters, she said, it could be the sales center for the entire development.

"What better way to put people in the mood for buying a new house than by bringing them to a historic house in a grove of champion trees, which sits on a knoll overlooking your entire project?" she said.

Said Artery's Riordan, "The only thing we don't want is to leave it where it is."

Whatever happens to the house, Lydie Price has gone to settlement on her property and is busy these days packing for her own move up the road, to a 22-year-old house she has bought on a quarter acre in Crofton.

"I'm ready to move," she said. "There comes a time when some things have to go."