In Edmonston, a town of about a dozen streets and 1,000 residents in the crowded northwest corner of Prince George's County, there lives a man named Joe Horan. And practically everyone knows him.

He is 57. He was born there, and never left. He's Edmonston's unofficial historian. He's a former town council member. He's active with the recreation council. At Christmastime he plays Santa Claus in a local parade that passes nearly every one of the town's 400 homes. Whenever something needs organizing in little Edmonston, Joe Horan usually organizes it.

It's people like Horan who make Edmonston what it is, said Town Clerk Adele Compton. "We do have a lot of businesses in the town, but it's the residents who make it what it is. They're like a large family. They give it a small-town atmosphere," she said.

Sandwiched between Riverdale and Bladensburg near the Anacostia River, Edmonston is an aging, five-square-mile enclave off Kenilworth Avenue.

Its houses, many of them ranch-style homes and bungalows of 1950s vintage, stand shoulder-to-shoulder on small lots, some well-kept, some not.

Horan and others prefer to talk about the people in those homes. "We have a slogan in our town," said Horan, a retired telephone company worker. "We like to say, 'Edmonston has a heart.' "

Ask Janet Jarman about it.

Her 9-year-old granddaughter Rachael Carbaugh, who lives with her, is afflicted with cerebral palsy. Two years ago, residents raised thousands of dollars to help pay her medical expenses.

"It was just an effort by the entire town," Jarman said. "They had bake sales. They had car washes. They had collections on Kenilworth Avenue. They had flea marts. They had auctions. It was just marvelous."

"I've found it to be a quiet, close-knit little place," said Police Chief James Dotson, a retired D.C. police lieutenant who took charge of the town's five-member force last month. "A lot of families are older families, people who've been around here for years. It's not just that everybody seems to know everybody. They do. It's that everybody's grandparents seem to know everybody's grandparents."

As a result, real estate agents said, the town's housing market is less than brisk.

In compiling statistics, the Prince George's Board of Realtors lumps Edmonston with Hyattsville, Cottage City, Colmar Manor, Bladensburg and parts of Cheverly and Landover Hills.

The board said 488 homes were sold in those communities in 1990 for an average price of $113,000.

"It's a small town in every way," Jarman said. "We don't have department stores. We don't have a grocery store. We have a Mobil gas station on the corner. That's where we get our bread, sodas, whatever."

"There's only one thing this town doesn't have that I really wish we did have," added Horan. "And that's a church."

Jarman, who moved to the town from Northwest Washington with her husband 30 years ago, seems typical of the Edmonston resident who, once settled, never leaves.

"We used to live on 52nd Place," she said. "Three more lots came up for sale on 52nd. And we wanted to move. But we decided if we're going to move, let's pick a new street. So now we're on Emerson.

"We never thought about moving away," she said. "Edmonston is what we want. It's what we want for ourselves and for our grandchildren."

The town, with a median household income today of $30,000, was incorporated in June 1924, Horan said. Enough of its few hundred residents wanted to install street lights that they voted to form their own government.

Edmonston experienced little growth until the 1950s, when the Army Corps of Engineers raised the banks of the Anacostia's northeast branch, Horan said.

Before then, when the river would swell, "we used to have floods in town all the time," Horan recalled. "Believe it or not, where Kenilworth Avenue is now used to be nothing but a big lake most of the time."

Along with county real estate taxes, property owners in Edmonston pay a tax to the town of 75 cents per $100 of assessed value.

The estimated 135 businesses in town, most of them located in two industrial parks, pay an additional tax on their assets and inventory.

Compton, the clerk, said Edmonston is operating this fiscal year with a $647,590 budget, with the major portion of the money going for its police force, municipal trash pickup and road maintenance.

And there was the Halloween party for the children. And the Christmas parade. And there's an Easter egg hunt coming up.

"In D.C., the only time you deal with people is when they're a victim or a suspect," said Dotson, the police chief.

"Here, it's just the opposite. People like to talk to the police. I go around the town and I'm constantly running into people who just want to stop and talk."