[TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCES] from. What is now a cul-de-sac was then an open field, broken only by the aimless little street that would become Walnutwood Court. Nothing but the grass rose far enough above the ground to cast a shadow.
Then the people came. Trying to stay a step ahead of the congestion creeping northward along Interstate 270, trying to make their dreams of a pastoral existence fit the realities of limited budgets, young families started looking at this empty corner of the new Churchill community in Germantown.
Seven homes suddenly sprouted around the cul-d-sac created at the road's end. Seven families - their roots in India, Manhattan, Cleveland. rural Pennsylvania and urban New Jersey - found themselves side by side, pioneers in a newly born neighborhood on the northeast frontier of the burgeoning I-270 corridor in Montgomery Country.
For weeks, Walnutwood Court was little more than a cluster of homes - until Yackie ran away. The night of the dog's disappearance, Carolee McBee went to nearly every nearby home, asking her neighbors to keep an eye out for her pet.
Almost everyone joined in the search. The workmen building new homes nearby were on the lookout. Teen-agers from down the block organized after-school dog hunts. One neighbor made a daily trek to the nearby woods, carrying a bowl of dog food and calling out Yackie's name.
After three days, Yackie came back on his own. In celebration, McBee and Reynolds tacked a large poster to their home, announcing "Yackie is Back" and threw a party for the neighborhood. That party, Reynolds said, was "the first event that brought everyone together. Most of the people already knew each other, but not that well."
Now things are different in the new neighborhood. Kay Benson, from 30 Walnutwood Ct., spends much of her day in the kitchen of Carol Buchalla next door at 26 Walnutwood Court. "If she isn't over there, Carol's at Kay's home," said McBee. "They spend all day running in and out of each other's homes.
Reynolds and McBee leave their key with the Bensons when they go on vacation. Zohara and Mohammed Husain of 21 Walnutwood Ct. get together with their neighbors at parties thrown by Reynolds and McBee.
"I'd say Pat and Clee (McBee's nickname) are the nucleus of the neighborhood," said Kay Benson. "They're the ones," Deborah Devin agreed, "who take it on themselves to get people together."
The families of Walnutwood Court have much in common. Most are couples in their 30s. They hold at least half a dozen advanced degrees among them, and they can afford the $70,000 price tag of Walnutwood Court homes. Almost everyone on the block commutes down 1-270 or the parallel railroad tracks to offices known, in the Washington area fashion, by acronyms rather than a name: NOAA National Oceanographic and Atomospheric Administration. HUDC (Department of Housing and Urban Development), ERDA (Energy Research and Development Administration) and OTA (Office of Technology Assessment). In two families, both the wife and husband work iin these offices.
"I don't think things could be better with a group of people if they had been born and raised here," said Kay Benson enthusiastically. "We like the neighborhood so much.
"In an old neighborhood, you always have some old hangups and old hostilities," added Benson, who lived in Oxon Hill for several years while her husband was an officer at Andrews Air Force Base. "I think everyone here has had those same problems and nobody wants to repeat them. Everybody's trying to get off on a good footing."
But even though their lives share common patterns in the isolation of this outpost of suburbia - Walnutwood Court is 25 miles northwest of downtown Washington and six miles from the nearest supermarket - there are still strong forces pulling these people apart. The greatest of these forces is time.
"It's not so much a choice not to be with my neighbors," explained Deborah Devin, who works four days a week as a research analyst at the downtwon office of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.""It's just the choice - no it's not even a choice - to be with my family in the preciouss little time I have left afterward."
Devin spends three hours a day commuting up and down 1-270, which leaves her tired at day's end. "When a mother of two active kids comes home at 7 o'clock at night, there's very little time left for anything," she sighed, "It grieves me . . . it's a shame."
In addition, no matter how similar their present lives, "the people here are not a homogenous group in the way they perceive the world,' said Michael Devine.
Part of the reason for this is their differting backgrounds. For instance: Carolee McBee grew up outside of Scranton, Pa. She is a product of a rural existence that still shows in her open smile and easy, welcoming manner. Even her advanced degrees in physics and the sophisticated company she keeps in the Senate's Office of Technology Assessment haven't obliterated this.
When the Devines moved in, their furniture still scattered between the van and home, McBee brought freshly baked cookies over to her new neighbors. The Devines were touched by the gesture. But it was not really something they would have done for someone else - it just wasn't a part of their big-city roots.
"I'm just not the kind of person who goes up to someone and says,'Hi, there,'" said Michael Devine, a native of the East Side of Manhattan who works as a n oceanographer with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. "It's not a matter of being unfriendly. It's just casusal. It's partially growing up in the city. There were thousands of people on our block and we didn't know a single one of them.
"Michael and I come out of an urban,anonaymous tradition where your friends are not your neighbors," added his wife. "It's a matter of conditioning , not choice."
Still, these people are tied to each other by the place in which they oppose to live. It's a place that most of them chose after trying a variety of alternatives, a place they all seem admitted to - as committed a possible for members of a particularly [WORD ILLEGIBLE] class of society.
Pat Reynolds and Clee McBee were the first to decide on Walnutwood Court. "We had our choice of foundations," Reynolds recalled. "(The builders) promised us they'd have the house up in 90 days from scratch, and they did."
Like a number of their future neighbors, Reynolds and McBee were looking for homes in Germantown because life farther south along the I-270 corridor, in Gaithersburg's Montgomery Village - their last address - was getting a little too crowded and hectic. "Potomac, Montgomery Village, that sort of thing."
Then someone mentioned to Clee that there was a new development in Germantown." Satisfied with the location, they made a down payment, waited, and in August, 1975, moved in to 29 Walnutwood Ct.
The new neighborhood, which nestles up against the woods of Little Seneca State Park, pleased them so much that it made little difference when Clee moved from her job in Gaithersburg all the way to Capitol Hill, adding 30 minutes to her commuting time each way.
"We had the neighborhood virtually to ourselves for about four months," said Reynolds, a man whose roots are in suburban Delaware and whose weekends are now spent on the silent hiking trails of Shenandoah National Park. "I love it. Because the other stuff was not developed and there were no other people around, it seemed like we had our own estate."
But, by the fall of 1975, they were welcoming new neighbors. The Bensons were the next to come, with their sons, Arik, now 8, and Mark, 7. After they moved in to 30 Walnutwood Ct., they picked up the tradition of Greeting newcomers which McBee had started. When the Husains moved into 21 Walnutwood Ct., Kay Benson came by with fresh brownies for their daughter, Ferah, and the two nephews who live with them.
Then, in rapid succession, came Shiu T. Ming, his wife and twin sons, who moved into 34 Walnutwood Ct., between the home where Reynolds, McBee and McBee's brother, Chip Foley, live, and the Bensons. The Devines and their two children moved into 25 Walnutwood Ct., on the other side of Reynolds and McBee. Brian Buchalla, who until recently was a supervisor with the Sparta Brook construction firm building the homes moved his family into 26 Walnutwood Ct.
The Bensons and the Buchallas quickly grew close, in part because Kay and Carol were among the few women on the block who stayed home during the day.
"This is a much friendlier place than where we lived in Clifton, (N.J.)," said Carol Buchalla, who, with her husband. Brian, grew up in the small cluster of industrial cities along the Passaic River in northern New Jersey. "You trust people more out here." Then, after pausing a moment, she added. "If you need anything from the store, they'll get it for you."
While she developed a close friendship with Kay Benson, their 8-year-old sons, Arik Benson and Keith Buchalla, also became best friends. "They're together constantly - football, exploring, everything," Carol Buchalla said. "It's easy for us, too. Everyone's in the same age group."
But there have been growing pains in the neighborhood.
Reynolds remembers when it was discovered that the property line between his third-of-an-acre lot and the Devines next door had been miscalculated. The Devines owned some of the backyard he thought was his, and he and McBee owned some of the Devines' front yard. That misunderstanding, he emphasized recently, was minor and is now long forgotten.
While some of the children in the neighborhood are the best of friends, others find few playmates among their neighbors, and instead spend their time with other children from Germantown Elementary School or their old down-county neighborhoods.
One couple, Richard and Beverly Chipman, who are renting 22 Walnutwood Ct. from its first owners, remain fairly isolated from the people around them. "We sold our home in Potomac when our last child got married," said Beverly Chipman, who is in her 40s. "It's very longenial here - we've gotten to know our neighbors next door (the Buhhallas) sort of over the back fence."
But she and her husband, Richard, a retired Air Force officer, "tend to stick more to ourselves" than their other neighbors, she concluded. The Chipmans' lease has less than a year to go. "I think that makes a difference," she said. "You don't make quite as much of an effort to associate when you know you're temporary . . . plus the fact we're older than the other people here and you tend to make friends with people your own age."
There are other families somewhat outside the inner orbit of the neighborhood. The parents of Zohara Hasain have moved into another area in Churchill subdivision, within easy walking distance, and she spends much of her time there. "I wanted my parents to move in close to me," she said. "They're getting old, and I like to be near them."
Still, "we do know our neighbors quite well." she said. "This is the kind of quiet, serene place we want to be in," But, like her neighbors she knows that permanence is not often a part of the life-style of Washington area professionals.
Already, two of the original seven families on the block have moved. The Mings moved to Hong Kong, where Shiu's employer, the Bechtel Corp., sent him to take a new job.
Into their home at 34 Walnutwood Ct. moved three young college acquaintances of Clee McBee's brother, Chip Foley. "I'd gone to Penn State with Chip," explained one of them, Kate Young. "My friends' leases were running out in Gaithersburg and I has just moved to town and couldn't affort an apartment by myself. I wasn't ready to live in the city, either." She now commutes to the downtown offices of the Energy Research and Development Administration, and her housemates work at Bechtel in Gaithersburg.
Another family to move out was the Robert Curtises, was left the home the Chipmans now live in and also headed for the Far East, at IBM's request.
For others on the block, a move is always possible. Mohammed Husain also works for Bechtel, and his wife knows then when you work for a multinational construction and engineering firm, a move is always possible. "But right now this is permanent," she said. "We enjoy the house . . . and I love the area."
Kay Benson is even more enthusiastic. "We'd like to retire here. If we had our choice we would like to stay here forever. . . . I would like to feel if my husband were transferred I could rent (something that the Mings and the Curtises have done) and come back."
"We're all working hard for this neighborhood," she added. "That's what's made it what it is."