Stepping into different parts of the Prince William County town of Dumfries is like walking into eras of the past.

Sections of Main Street are home to buildings constructed in the 1960s reminiscent of the Andy Griffith television show.

Another section is home to the Stage Coach Inn, a colonial building where George Washington and other early American dignitaries once slept. Two fast-food restaurants built in the past few years lend a modern touch.

"Dumfries is an eclectic mix of new and old," said Mike Bush, manager of the Hardware Store on Main Street. "You can't categorize it, because there is a mix of the very, very new and the very, very old right here together."

Dumfries, chartered in 1749 by Scotland native John Graham, was a major tobacco shipping port in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Today, the town has evolved into a growing community of 5,500 people, split down the middle by Route 1. The highway is called Main Street on the southbound side and Fraley Boulevard on the northbound side.

The town has one shopping center, one grocery store and one post office. To many of the area's residents, one is enough.

"That's one of the reasons why I like it, because it's small," said Alfredo "Fredy" Calderon, who moved to Dumfries four years ago from Woodbridge. "I know all the public officials and the police officers and it's usually nice and quiet."

Calderon, 32, a Prince William County Circuit Court microfilm technician, and his wife, Florence, 49, who works for a drugstore distribution center, moved to Dumfries because it was the only community in Prince William where they could afford to buy a home.

The Calderons bought their three-bedroom, 1 1/2-bathroom home in the Williamstown town house development, where mostly by working-class people and young couples live.

"For me and my wife, this was the only affordable place we could live," said Calderon, president of the Williamstown Homeowners Association. "Most of the people who live here are working-class people who moved here to buy an affordable home the same as we did."

Since the Calderons moved in, Dumfries has undergone tremendous change. New developments of single-family homes and town houses have sprung up and have brought new residents.

According to a report by the Prince William County Board of Realtors, the average price of detached single-family homes in Dumfries was $140,000 in the third quarter of 1990. Town house prices averaged $76,700, making Dumfries one of the more affordable housing markets in Northern Virginia.

"Whenever you say Dumfries you have to talk about specific areas, because Dumfries is an older area overall," said Darwin Schurr, president of the county Realtors group. He said neighborhoods in Dumfries range from the upscale Montclair Country Club Lake subdivision of detached single-family homes, selling for at least $170,000, to the Williamstown development, where units sell for about $75,000.

Dumfries is part of a desirable area to potential home buyers on Prince William's east end, including Woodbridge and the upscale community of Lake Ridge.

"The entire area is popular for people to come to because you get more home for the money and a newer house for less money," Schurr said. "Otherwise, people wouldn't be willing to make the long drive {to work in the D.C. area}."

Many Dumfries residents don't know the history of the community, Calderon said. A drug problem has plagued some areas of the town, especially Williamstown, where some buildings have fallen into minor disrepair because of a lack of concern by owners and renters, some residents said.

"If people knew the history, maybe they would take more care," Calderon said. "There are a lot of concerned people who live here who are trying to change it for the better. But we need more people to get involved with the community, to get to know where they live."

The story of Dumfries goes back to town founder Graham who chartered it nine years after he came to America. He named Dumfries for his hometown in Scotland.

Dumfries, according to the Prince William County Historical Commission, was a major shipping port with much of the business created from the area's abundant tobacco industry. The port began declining in the late 1700s because of heavy silting of Quantico Creek, which eventually disconnected Dumfries from the port. Most of the trade eventually shifted to Alexandria.

Dumfries is one of three closely related communities near Interstate 95, including Quantico and Triangle. Though each of the towns has distinct boundary lines, most people are hard pressed to distinguish where one community begins and the other ends.

The Triangle Shopping Center, on Main Street, can be reached faster from some areas of Dumfries than from Triangle, Bush said. "Some people probably think there are two shopping centers in Dumfries, but there aren't."

Residents said their town gets a bad rap. Media reports on Dumfries often emphasize drug problems and controversies within the police department. A police chief resigned in 1989, and Virginia State Police recently have been investigating the department.

"You can never say anything derogatory about anyone in Dumfries, because they're kin to the person you're speaking to," said Donna Blanton, president of the Dumfries Chamber of Commerce.

"Most of the people have been here for a long time, or they're transients... . This is the last real small town on the eastern end of the county ... . Dumfries's pride is an idea whose time has come." Staff writers Camille Ross and Brooke Masters contributed to this report.