Cheverly is encircled by the crush of haphazard development and the noise of three major highways. Rattling railroad lines and a subway route slice along the town's edge.
But from inside the town's borders, the rush of traffic is distant and unseen. Tall, full oak trees soften the whine of the highways and take a few degrees off a hot summer afternoon. The effect is that of an oasis, an insulated community of ample yards under imposing trees. Field-stone, stucco and two-story red-brick homes sit along narrow roads that climb for just a block, then drop back down and wind along the contours of the town.
Much as when it was developed 60 years ago, Cheverly enjoys a reputation in Prince George's County as a stable, middle-class community of families.
With 5,751 residents, Cheverly has kept its small-town atmosphere. Stamp-collecting clubs and the American Legion thrive, a citizen's crime watch program supplements a local eight-person police force and the mayor gets called at home with complaints about barking dogs.
"There is a certain lack of pretentiousness in Cheverly," said Mayor Alan Dwyer. "There's a happy involvement with each other. We're too busy to be upwardly mobile. We're happy to leave that to our more pretentious neighbors in Montgomery County."
The activities that Dwyer says keep Cheverly so busy include a long list of local clubs and festivities, including an annual parade and fireworks display. There is a Boys and Girls Club that organizes year-round sports, a babysitting cooperative and a recreation council, a Women's Club, Men's Club and three active churches. A local cable television channel reminds the town of what's next on the calendar of events.
Within the man-made barriers of Landover Road, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and the John Hanson Highway, Cheverly is a pocket of green. It has no downtown, is almost entirely residential and populated mostly by white-collar professionals who commute a half hour to the District, then retreat home at the end of the day to families and back-yard barbecues.
"We've managed to survive the strain of the population explosion and the Metro coming through," said Raymond Bellamy, government intelligence research analyst, the unofficial town historian and a lifelong resident. "Generally speaking, the people who live in Cheverly are pretty friendly, close-knit. We're proud of the place."
Bellamy, who lives with his family in a spacious home his father purchased out of the Sears, Roebuck catalogue 60 years ago, was born in Cheverly in 1931, the year the town was incorporated. His father helped build the town with its founder, Robert Marshall, who had acquired the land from a tobacco plantation in 1918. Part of the land acquired for the new town was called Cheverly Gardens, which got its name from an English estate, "Cheveley Manor," Bellamy said. The new town became known as simply Cheverly.
Unlike most towns at the time, Cheverly's streets were not laid out on a square grid drawn to follow street-car or rail lines. Instead, Marshall designed the roads along the natural contours of the hills. The result today is a mosaic, an asymmetrical pattern of curving, looping streets.
"It was one of the first planned communities," Bellamy said.
The first two homes were built in 1923, according to Bellamy, followed by a flurry of building through the decade. During the 1940s and '50s, the town expanded west of Cheverly Avenue, the main road that cuts through its center.
Probably the best-known building in town is Mount Hope, the early 19th-century tobacco plantation home now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The pre-Civil War home on Cheverly Circle is pictured on the town seal and has come to symbolize the town.
The homes currently on the market in Cheverly are priced between $80,000 and $198,000, according to Mavis McAvoy, a real estate agent and former resident of the town. But a handful of other homes in Cheverly are valued at up to $300,000.
McAvoy described the typical Cheverly home as "charming." Many are red-brick, with hardwood floors, fireplaces and second-floor porches reaching off a bedroom.
The easy commute by highway or Metro -- there is an Orange Line stop in town -- has drawn more young professionals to town lately, she said. But the character of Cheverly is still largely defined by its families, many of whom have lived there for more than a generation.
"There's a lot of pride of ownership," she said. "You can live very quietly to yourself . . . or if you want to join the Garden Club, there's activities."
The Garden Club is not the only reminder that Cheverly, despite its share of young professional commuters, is small, close-knit and traditional. There is Pinkey Oden, the faithful correspondent who writes a town column for the Prince George's Post-Sentinel.
Each week, she offers gardening tips and household hints: "If you forget your can opener on picnics, use your seat belt buckle. It works."
Most important, she provides the staple of small-town living, snippets of gossip about who is celebrating a birthday, winning the Easter Basket Coloring Contest and recovering from an unfortunate illness.
The streets in Cheverly are named Sumac and Green Leaf and Arbor. The lawns are well-tended, but few are manicured with the compulsiveness of a professional gardener.
Beside the town ballfield is a covered picnic area. And there is a private pool and racquet club in town, surrounded by woods and so popular that its patrons often retain their membership even if they move out of town.
Over the past 20 years, Cheverly has annexed an industrial park south of the John Hanson Highway and apartment buildings along Landover Road, increasing its acreage to 1.5 square miles.
According to the 1980 census, 28.3 percent of the town's population is black, a figure that is lower than many of the surrounding towns, and most of the remaining population is white. Traditionally, Cheverly was considered a white enclave, where its few black residents lived in a section of town separated by the John Hanson Highway. A desegregation order in 1969 sending the town's children to a black junior high and high school created a wave of opposition and was seen as a threat to the cohesiveness of the community.
Today, many of the town's black residents live in the same section of town and in the apartment buildings along Landover Road.
Despite its history of some racial strife, Cheverly's elementary school, officially known as the Cheverly-Tuxedo/Happy Acres Elementary School, is now well-integrated, one of the few in the county that maintains a racial balance without mandatory busing. Its enrollment is just over 60 percent black, reflecting precisely the racial makeup of the countywide school population.
The school, divided into two campuses, is generally considered a model of what can happen with community involvement. Test scores are average or above, based on national standards, and there are parents volunteering at the school daily. The Parent Teacher Organization has raised money for books and equipment and, in the past, parents fought to keep school buildings open despite declining enrollment.
The community has also drawn together over other issues. Most recently, a committee was organized to fight a proposed development at the east end of town, arguing that 57 new homes would congest traffic and remove trees that buffer the town from the John Hanson Highway, rail lines and Metro route.
Recently, Mayor Dwyer suggested that the committee formed to study the development proposal, known as Cheverly Oaks, become a permanent fixture to advise the six-member town council on development decisions.
"We're trying to preserve the quality and dignity of Cheverly," said John Gerrity, a 30-year resident whose home abuts the proposed development property. "Cheverly is proud of its homes.