In the midst of Northeast Washington is the quiet village of River Terrace where residents can stroll in the streets on a weekday with little fear of traffic and the annual community festival is the event of the year.

The 50-year-old community has well-defined borders: Benning Road, Interstate 295, East Capitol Street and the Anacostia River. The 18 square blocks are lined with compact, two-story brick homes, most displaying neatly trimmed yards bordered with gardens of periwinkle and petunias.

"I like to think of it as an island," said journalist F.J. Payton, a resident for 37 years. "And the center of the island is the community school, which we consider to be our city hall."

The insular feeling results from the small-town sprit of a community where everyone seems to know his neighbors. It is reinforced by the hard-edged skyline of a Pepco power plant to the north, a major highway to the east and busy East Capitol Street on the south. Even the river view on the west gives way to RFK Stadium rising above the far shore.

But none of that bothers the residents, who tend to look out for their many elderly neighbors, support their local school and take pride in their well-kept community.

The local elementary school, located on 34th and Dix streets NE, was built about 1950. At the time, blacks were moving into the originally all-white neighborhood and wanted the school open to all students, even before the Supreme Court ruling that would force the issue a few years later.

Payton, who writes a weekly column about River Terrace for the Capitol Spotlight, said the school became the catalyst for the residents to form an organization to represent the interests of the whole community. The problem was a long-standing tradition in the city of black groups calling themselves a civic association and whites referring to themselves as a citizens association.

"The residents wanted a name that would incorporate the whole community, one that would not exclude anyone," he said. "Therefore the decision was made to name it the River Terrace Community Association."

The school, called River Terrace Community School, has classes for kindergarten through seventh grade. In the evening there are classes for adults who want to get a high school diploma as well as classes for those who want to learn more about sewing, music and art.

In June, the estimated 3,500 residents celebrate the founding of the association at a River Terrace Day held in a federal park that borders the neighborhood along the Anacostia River. And that park is another story of community cooperation. During the Bicentennial celebration in 1976, the National Park Service had money to improve city parks. It was the residents who drew up plans for the new park that now includes a baseball diamond, a band shell and tennis and basketball courts.

The community was started in 1937, built on vacant land in what was pretty much a country setting. The East Capitol Street Bridge, located southwest of River Terrace, was yet to be built and a small produce stand was a fixture along Benning Road.

River Terrace sprang up with about 800 look-alike brick row houses and 10 small apartment buildings. The homes, most with two bedrooms, sold for about $5,000.

Now those houses sell for about $85,000, said real estate agent Wesley Taylor. Families tend to pass their homes along to their children or other relatives who want to live in the community.

"People like that neighborhood because it is very convenient to {Route} 295 but it has a hidden quality to it," he said. "You have to know it is there."

Resident involvement seems to go with owning a house in River Terrace. A decade ago, when Metro announced the Benning Road end of the community was a possible Metro site, residents joined together to fight the proposal.

"We were worried we'd be overrun with commuter cars," Payton said. "Every once in a while someone brings it up and says they wish we had the station. But it has worked out well for us. We have a bus that runs from here to the Minnesota Avenue station."

More recently, residents joined together to battle with Pepco over the addition of two 105-megawatt combustion turbines to their Benning Road plant just across the street from River Terrace.

Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner George Gurley, a River Terrace resident for the past eight years, organized the opposition based on concerns that the new, oil-driven generators would add to existing air pollution problems.

The opposition became the centerpiece of the District's Earth Day celebration in April. Representatives of several national conservation groups as well as three D.C. Council members came to a rally at River Terrace.

Gurley, who is retired from the military, sees the battle as a life-and-death situation.

"Just like the United States in Saudi Arabia, I have drawn the line," he said. "This is a beautiful neighborhood here with lots of retired people who want to enjoy their life. I am here to watch out for them."

The residents appear to have won, at least for now. Pepco spokeswoman Nancy Moses said the utility broke ground on Monday for four new generators, including the two planned for the Benning Road plant, at their Chalk Point facility in Prince George's County.

Moses said Pepco's application to expand at the Benning Road site is still pending with the District's regulatory agency.

And that keeps Gurley war-ready.

"I will not stop fighting Pepco until they withdraw that application," he said.

Gurley is now looking at the District-owned incinerators just behind the Pepco plant.

"They will have to go down, too," he declared.