Virginia Matthews sat pensively on her front porch at 506 Edgewood St. NE, looking down the double terrace that makes up her front lawn and across the well-traveled street. "It used to be heaven on earth here. It was nice. It was nice," she said of Edgewood, a traditionally tight-knit neighborhood just south of Catholic University in the District.

But then came change, including construction of one of the largest federally subsidized housing projects in the city across the street from Matthews' house. The devil, Matthews calls it.

"There's been such a drastic change, it's not even like the same neighborhood," she said.

Edgewood, a mostly black, mostly working-class neighborhood of two- and three-bedroom brick row houses, has been pulled in recent years into the urban problems experienced by many of Washington's neighborhoods. But many residents say it still retains a sense of community and stability, which has helped them cope with the drugs and trash and traffic that have moved in.

Built on hilly land with a view of the city and Potomac and Anacostia rivers, Edgewood originally was known as High View, said Mary Butler, former president of the Edgewood Civic Association and a longtime resident.

At that time, the mid-1880s, the neighborhood could be compared in many ways to the Foxhall Road area of today. Large, lavish estates were the norm. To the southeast lay Brentwood, a two-story estate designed by architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe and considered one of the early examples of what one author called the city's Era of Confidence, "the era of established assurance that it would remain the national capital" following a period of debate about moving the seat of federal government.

To the northwest lay the Anderson House, the presidential retreat during the Civil War. It was here that Abraham Lincoln, who often escaped the pressures of wartime Washington, is said to have written the Emancipation Proclamation.

There was Sydney House to the north and Eckington House to the south. And in the middle -- in the heart of Edgewood, right where Matthews' devil is today -- was the Salmon P. Chase home. As Lincoln's secretary of the Treasury and later as chief justice of the Supreme Court during Reconstruction, Chase brought the city's social elite to his High View home.

Today, Edgewood -- bounded by Florida Avenue, North Capitol Street, Michigan Avenue and the B&O Railroad line -- is a mixture of retired homeowners who have aged with the neighborhood, young professionals who represent a new generation of homeowners, and the more transient residents of several apartment complexes in the area.

Although the character of Edgewood has changed over the last century, there remains an unmistakable pride in the area.

"I think it's a darn good neighborhood," said Barbara Spriggs of 234 Ascot Place NE, who serves as chairwoman of the Ascot Place Community Group. "Our block has been a model block." The Ascot Community Group represents one of a number of similar block associations throughout Edgewood.

According to Mamie Miller, an assessor for the D.C. government, house that sold for as little as $13,000 in the 1950s, when Matthews and Spriggs moved in, are now worth as much as $90,000.

"I ask a lot of people why they paid what they did in that area," Miller said. "They all mention the schools, the Metro and the scenery. They really liked the view."

Ernest W. Armstrong, a broker for Century 21, said Edgewood has some very salable points. "It's in an important triangle," he said. "Transportation is readily available {at the Rhode Island Avenue station of Metro's Red Line}, it's near several academic communities {the Catholic and Howard university complexes} and it's close to the Washington Hospital Center."

And the area is pretty, he said.

Today, Edgewood is a large collection of two- and three-bedroom brick row houses built in the 1920s. Taking advantage of the hills, the homes are tiered and as tightly knit as the community. Front porches provide social settings in which people can get to know their neighbors.

"We watch out for each other," Spriggs said.

But that's also a testament to the fact that the urban neighborhood has its problems. "Sure, improvements could be made," Spriggs added.

"The influx of apartment renters is the only problem we have," Butler said. Like the rest of the metropolitan area, high-density living means high-density difficulties. Parking problems, the need for street repairs and uncollected trash are the bane of Edgewood residents.

And of course,there are drugs. "See those steps over there?" Matthews asked as she pointed across the street. "Used to be kids stood up and down those steps selling dope." And while the drug trade no longer flourishes in front of her home, it still exists.

Residents, however, have devised novel solutions for the problems. Matthews told of badgering police and other city officials until the drug trade was removed from in front of her house. Butler told of an annual parade in which residents march down streets picking up trash. And Spriggs told of neighborhood support for one area resident who peddles old tires: Neighbors buy the tires, cut them up, paint them and use them as flower planters.

The place has changed, Matthews said. From the period of grand houses to the era of black-owned homes. From High View to Edgewood. From splendor to flowers in cut-up tires.