When prospective buyers stumble into Cheverly, the ambience in the small town often conjures up remembrances of things past.

That's how it was for newlyweds Tanya Marshall and Randy ZuWallack, who fell in love with Cheverly because it had the feel of a New England town.

"We're both used to villages and town centers, and we liked the community feel," said Marshall, who grew up in western Massachusetts. The feel extended to the house they found: Even the ornate radiator covers and original glass doorknobs of their two-bedroom, 1941 brick Greek Revival home reminded them of childhood houses.

The deep back yard, screened porch and deck all appealed, too, because, the couple has two cats and fosters three dogs for the Prince George's County animal-protection society.

Marshall and ZuWallack initially resisted their real estate agent's suggestion to consider the incorporated town of 6,400 that lies two miles from the District line. "We thought we should stay in College Park where we'd been renting," said ZuWallack, 26, a U.S. Census Bureau statistician and formerly from Cape Cod.

Marshall, 25, a doctoral student at the University of Maryland's College of Library and Information Services, said she and ZuWallack "could've saved ourselves five months and a lot of trouble" had they heeded the agent's advice. They moved in on Memorial Day 1998. Price tag: Less than $120,000.

Cheverly, incorporated in 1931, has its own police force and garbage collection, but no post office. Its housing stock is a mix of colonials, ramblers and stone and wood bungalows, most built around World War II. There also are a few farmhouses and stone Tudor mansions.

Residents can walk to the subway and the District is just 10 minutes by car.

"Just about anywhere you want to go, it's a reverse commute," said ZuWallack, who likes to use the county's back roads to get to work in Suitland.

On Friday nights residents congregate at Fratelli's, an unpretentious Italian restaurant. Each September, the town hosts Cheverly Day, with a 5K race, concerts and fireworks. For parents, there's even a babysitting cooperative and an early-learning center.

If all of this sounds idyllic, it is in many ways. The town thinks of itself as a successfully integrated suburb inside the Capital Beltway, where the town's median income is the second highest in the county, neighborhood crime is low and a majority of residents older than 25 are college graduates. But Cheverly had to work to overcome problems in its not-so-distant past.

When it was first subdivided by developer Robert Marshall in 1918, Cheverly was promoted as a "restricted community," which was a code phrase for "whites only," said David Warrington, town administrator since 1989.

Race was a volatile issue even in the early 1970s. Seven of the eight litigants who sued to stop integration of Prince George's County schools resided in Cheverly, said Joseph C. Ruddy Jr., a lawyer who arrived in 1952 as a third-grader, moved away and later returned with his wife, Joanne Ruddy, to raise 11 children around the corner from his childhood home.

It was Prince George's County Executive Wayne Curry, Warrington said, who "broke the color barrier when he entered the local elementary school and joined the Boys and Girls Club."

As athletic director for the club for the past 20 years, Ruddy has made sure that all its teams were integrated. According to the 1995 census, the town is 51 percent white, 47 percent black and 2 percent "other."

Town historian Raymond Bellamy Jr. said that when the Pennsylvania railroad built the Baltimore-Potomac spur in 1872, the rail line split an 800-acre plantation owned by Washington grocery magnate Fielder Magruder. Cheverly eventually developed on the west side of the rail spur. Magruder's historic frame farmhouse, Mount Hope, still sits on a rise at 1 Cheverly Circle.

Bellamy, whose father was co-founder of the town and was its first landscaping director, still lives in the Alhambra model Sears, Roebuck and Co. house his parents bought in 1927. The house is one of about a dozen of the mail-order kit homes still in use today.

For residents who left and later returned, there is the closeness of family.

Elizabeth Ruddy, Joe and Joanne Ruddy's 26-year-old daughter, came back. After living on Capitol Hill and considering Northern Virginia, she and fiance Austin Hatch recently bought a starter home in Cheverly for about $115,000. They'll move in after their August wedding. Cheverly's Orange Line Metro will deposit Elizabeth directly at Marymount University in Virginia where she's studying for a master's degree in physical therapy.

Having her 88-year-old grandmother and a pack of cousins around the corner will, with luck, mean plenty of family potluck dinners.

As for Joe and Joanne Ruddy: "We couldn't be more tickled," said Joe Ruddy.

CHEVERLY

BOUNDARIES: Baltimore-Washington Parkway to the west, Frolich Lane to the south, Route 50 to the southeast and Landover Road to the north. Also included in the town are 65 houses on the southeast side of Route 50 and 45 houses on the west side of the parkway.

NUMBER OF HOUSES: 1,675 single-family dwellings in a 1 1/2-square-mile area, and about 550 apartments in the Cheverly Terrace and Hanson Arms complexes.

PROPERTY SALES: 58 houses have sold since June 1998, with an average price of $138,000, said Janet C. Ambrose of Long & Foster. Thirty-four properties are on the market, with an average price of $157,000. Housing styles include Sears, Roebuck homes, 1930s farmhouses, 1940s brick colonials and bungalows, and more contemporary designs.

SCHOOLS: Gladys Noon Spellman elementary, Greenbelt middle and Fairmont Heights or Eleanor Roosevelt high schools.

WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE: The Publick Playhouse; Fratelli's Italian Restaurant; Cheverly Metro station; Metro buses to downtown and Silver Spring.

10 MINUTES BY CAR: National Arboretum; University of Maryland; Prince George's Hospital Center.

CAPTION: Randy ZuWallack and Tanya Marshall walk two of their dogs along Cheverly Avenue.