Glen Echo resident Tillie McNoldy remembers the quiet that settled over her tiny town when the rides, fun house and other attractions of the Glen Echo Amusement Park closed in the mid-1960s. Some homeowners in the village were glad that buses and cars were no longer bringing hordes of merry-makers into the area, but McNoldy said she knew right away she would miss the excitement.

"There was a sudden stillness, after hearing the cries from the coaster dip," recalled McNoldy, who had moved in 1946 to the town southwest of Bethesda between MacArthur Boulevard and the Potomac River. "It just sounded so dead, just like winter had set in."

Today, new residents are paying $200,000 to nearly $400,000 to buy into that quiet, in what was for decades a blue-collar enclave. Glen Echo -- a New England-style village with an eclectic collection of older shingled and stone houses and fewer than 300 residents -- is by choice one of the smallest towns in Montgomery County. Nineteen-year resident Carlotta Anderson, editor of the community newsletter, said it's the kind of place where her children could wander freely from block to block and count on finding somebody to bandage a scraped knee.

"For such a small community, it has a real strong identity," said Rufus Lusk III, a resident who heads his family's real estate information service. Lusk and his wife, artist Jessica Damen, moved with their children, Jonathan and Rebecah, to a two-story Victorian house overlooking the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal last year. It was a year in which Glen Echo had the fourth-highest home sales prices in the county, averaging $212,500. Typically, two to three houses come on the market there each year, said Mayor Frederick Kuster.

Lusk said he and his wife found convenience to Bethesda, downtown Washington and Tysons Corner, and a good school district -- including Bannockburn Elementary, Pyle Intermediate and Walt Whitman Senior High schools -- and more: a sense of place. Like many of the houses in Glen Echo, theirs comes with an interesting history. It was built in 1895 by the personal secretary of Red Cross founder Clara Barton, who gave him the land, and was later owned by the aunt and uncle of Hubert Humphrey, who visited.

Much of Glen Echo's past is bound up with Barton, whose yellow and white steamboat gothic home and original national headquarters is within the town's boundaries, and in the development in the late 1800s of the adjacent Glen Echo park. About half of the the 1.5-mile-long town is already designated a historic district, and the town is about to consider historic designation for the remainder, which would pose some restrictions on exterior changes of the houses.

The adjacent park had begun life as a Chautauqua center, devoted to the democratization of learning and culture, and attracted hundreds of visitors in the summer. Since the founding, the town's official subdivision designation has been National Chautauqua of Glen Echo, and its streets are named for universities: Princeton, Yale, Harvard and the like.

About a dozen of the houses date from the early 1890s, when the park first opened. Later, as an amusement park, it was a major recreation center for the Washington region. Many longtime residents of the Washington area remember taking their first swimming lessons there at the giant Crystal Pool.

Since the 1970s, the park has taken on new life as an arts center, operated by the U.S. Park Service. Glen Echo the town is home to a number of artists, including painters, sculptors, photographers, woodworkers, jewelry makers and others, some of whom have studios in the park.

"This is a very unusual community," said Raya Bodnarchuk, a sculptor who is an artist in residence at the park and who lives in a Victorian cottage on Harvard Avenue. "The people are very kind to each other for the most part ... . They actually do things together. They have parties; people just visit. People kind of take pride in where they live and want others to enjoy it, so they kind of make sure that everybody is included and kind of taken care of."

There are town parties and picnics and a flea market in the spring. "There are a lot of little kids now, and it's fun for them," Bodnarchuk said. "The traffic is not terrible and they can play in the territory."

Children began to disappear from the streets of Glen Echo when the town attracted property investors in the 1970s, residents said, but lately families have begun to move there. Lawyers, doctors and other professionals, typically two-earner families, are buying out the carpenters, caretakers, Army Map Service employees and other blue-collar workers who had always lived there, McNoldy said.

A sign of the change in Glen Echo was the transformation of Trav's, a legendarily down-home bar that didn't pay much attention to ambiance but attracted a mix of clientele, into Glen Echo Station, a popular, oak furniture-filled restaurant serving modern fare. If there were still a trolley line to Glen Echo, the restaurant would be a short walk from the last stop.

The results of Glen Echo's partial gentrification are tangible, residents said. "We've got kids coming out our ears now," said Maxine Canada. "I think it's great."

The newcomers tend to make repairs and give face lifts to Glen Echo's old homes, said Lois Carroll, a retired AT&T worker and Communications Workers of America official who served as town clerk for nearly five years.

Historical district designation would make it easier for some residents to acquire low-interest loans to fix up their houses, Kuster noted.

Carroll said, "Some of these houses were built with logs that Clara Barton had floated down from the Johnstown {Pa.} flood." She jacked her own house up last year to make extensive repairs, she said.

With an annual town budget of $180,000, its small population and only a half-dozen empty lots left to build on, Glen Echo has kept a determined hold on its small-town atmosphere, said Kuster, 38, whose great-great-grandfather settled there in 1913 and whose father built five of the town's houses.

The town prides itself on having its narrow, 19th-century style streets plowed faster than its more modern snowbound neighbors, Kuster said, and on its efficient trash collection, which allows for once-a-month special pickups in addition to twice-a-week regular service.

"It's countrified, and it's nice and quiet," says Maxine Canada, who moved there as a young married woman in 1942. Her late husband, owner of Canada's, a bar that sold beer, wine, ice cream and other refreshments to town residents, succeeded his mother as postmaster of the town.

The tiny post office, located in the white clapboard town hall, remains a social center today, more than 20 years after Glen Echo finally got house-to-house mail delivery.

When people would send vacation post cards home to their neighbors, Canada recalled, they'd always include a note for her husband, knowing he would be sorting the mail.

"They'd put a p.s. at the end," she said: " 'This is for you, too, Don.' "

Today, Glen Echo's quiet is broken by jets using the Potomac River as a National Airport glide path and by the occasional summer festival, when thousands flock to the park to hear bluegrass or Irish music.

The shoulders of the nearby thoroughfares, MacArthur Boulevard and Goldsboro Road, are lined with parked cars on those weekends.

But cars do not clog the tiny "avenues" of Glen Echo. Over the years, Glen Echo's mayors and town councils have established rules to carefully guard the way of life there.

It means that the barricades go up to outsiders' traffic when festivals are staged, and that stray dogs don't stay stray for long. There are volunteer committees for animal control, maintaining the community's open space and other town concerns.

Lusk said he moved to Glen Echo in part because he wanted to live near the river. But he said he is always fascinated by things that are going on in Glen Echo Park.

"One day I bumped into an elephant," he said.

"I didn't realize that the {Big Apple} circus was coming, and there it was at the end of the street. They even gave us free tickets."

In the evenings, he said, in the silent park with its crumbling buildings and old merry-go-round, "I walk my dog and feel like I'm going through a set of The Twilight Zone ... . It's a very nice note from the busyness of the day."