When the government came in 1942 and took the land for the Camp Springs-Meadows Fighter Command Station--later Andrews Air Force Base--the residents of the Prince George's County town of Meadows had to go somewhere. Several of the white families moved to homes just outside the new base. Many of the black families moved a few miles farther, to a new subdivision known as Little Washington.
Nearly 60 years later, many of the same families are still there. "Well, you take me, the Greens, my husband's family," said Edna Green, an original resident and, at 88, the second-oldest. "There's one next to me, two across the street, about four or five of us still here. Then up further, Mr. Brooks, he died; his wife, she's still there."
But the once all-black community "is mixed now," she said. Six Hispanic families and three non-Spanish white households have moved into the neighborhood in recent years.
There also are some new houses, notably the two known collectively as D'Arcy Estates, priced at $154,900 and $167,900, and a couple of older ones for sale. But despite the encroachment of development, the increased traffic and the proximity of the Capital Beltway, Little Washington has remained remarkably stable over the years.
"It's mostly older houses, older neighbors," said Betty Ryan, whose Clinton-based Triangle Homes built the two new houses. "It's a nice little community."
If anything, residents said, it has improved with age. Paved streets and indoor plumbing were not among the amenities the first residents enjoyed; those came later, in the 1960s. In recent years, many of the original two-bedroom houses have been remodeled and enlarged.
The community park at D'Arcy Road and Washington Avenue--leased for $1 a year to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission--is out of commission now, its ball field overgrown, its picnic pavilion in disrepair. However, Little Washington is about to get a new $420,000 park on nearly 10 acres around the corner on Sansbury Road.
The community has an active civic association whose 43-year-old president, Debra Pierce, grew up in Little Washington, moved away and returned to live in her childhood home after her father died. She's the third generation to live in the house on D'Arcy Road that her grandparents bought in the early 1950s.
The civic association meets at the Arrowhead Elementary School, publishes a newsletter and annually bestows community service awards. Recent concerns have included speeding traffic, inadequate street lighting, dogs, drainage and drugs--although residents say that drug activity along D'Arcy Road has declined as police have stepped up patrols.
Residents still have a relationship of sorts with Andrews--years after the base forced them out: The neighborhood is in the flight path of military planes. There also is some background noise from the Beltway. Still, the community retains a semi-rural feel.
How Little Washington got its name is lost to history. What is known is that a white couple, Leon and Mabel Taymon, bought the land for $600 in 1928. He platted the subdivision in 1941 and, when the war came, he hired a black carpenter, John Thomas, to build the houses.
The residents paid $20 a month to buy the new four-room homes. "It was very beautiful," Edna Green said. "The houses, they were nice. But we didn't have anything but the house. No bath, no running water. We had an outside toilet. My mother lived next door. She had a pump. We got water from her."
Sections were added in the late 1940s and early 1950s on Cherry Lane and, across D'Arcy Road, on Sansbury Road and on Lincoln, Douglas and Washington avenues and on Booker T Drive. Today, there are about 140 households within the subdivision's unincorporated boundaries.
D'Arcy Road, which cuts through the community, was formerly Alms House Road and led to the county poorhouse near the Beltway. Today there are sand and gravel pits and a county department of public works facility in the area.
Samuel Merriweather, 81, has lived on D'Arcy Road with his wife, Elizabeth, since 1952, when he bought his house on a wooded half-acre lot for $12,000.
"I've added a dining room, bedroom [and] sun room over the years," he said with pride. "Now I'm assessed at over $100,000. I've been offered all kinds of deals." Merriweather has no immediate plans to sell, however. He likes where he lives.
"The neighbors are very, very protective of us," he said. "Last week, boys from next door wanted to come over and rake the leaves. We have another neighbor who wants to go to the grocery for us, [and] bring over cookies and cakes. They look out after us. I was telling my wife if anything happens to me, these people are going to run you crazy looking out for you."
Merriweather lives a few blocks from a former community landmark, the Evans Grill, which closed in 1991 after an illustrious run as a venue for rhythm and blues stars such as Otis Redding, James Brown and Fats Domino on the famed "chitlin circuit." The building now is a church, the New Life Rock of Ages Christian Fellowship.
Under the Rev. Benjamin Butler, the church is seeking approval to erect a new building on the site. "We have 50 [members] on the rolls," he said. "We're shooting for 200."
Little Washington's future, under the county's master plan, will also include new and widened roads. A new arterial extension of Presidential Parkway from Pennsylvania Avenue will shear off the tip of Washington Avenue, but likely will take much of the truck traffic from D'Arcy Road. The proposed straightening of D'Arcy Road would require razing some of the houses there.
"I'm aware of the road changes in the master plan, and my house is one of those affected," said Pierce, the civic association president. "I haven't gotten a handle on what we can do as a community. . . . But me personally, it's not like anything immediate; it's still a little way down the road. . . . Who knows?" She could, she admits, end up living elsewhere.
Then there's Edna Green. "I just love it," she said of Little Washington on her 88th birthday, inside her cozy and newly remodeled home. "I don't expect to go anywhere else till the Man Above calls me."
WHERE WE LIVE
BOUNDARIES: D'Arcy and Sansbury roads, Cherry Lane and Washington Avenue.
PROPERTY SALES: Three homes are for sale, including a 1981 three-bedroom for $159,000 and a new three-bedroom for $154,900, both on half-acre lots.
SCHOOLS: Arrowhead Elementary, James Madison Middle, Frederick Douglass High schools.
WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE: Two churches, Arrowhead Elementary School.
WITHIN 10 MINUTES BY CAR: Landover Mall, Hampton Mall, Penn-Mar amd Forest Village Park shopping centers, Andrews Air Force Base, Prince George's Community College, Upper Marlboro, Show Place Arena. The Capital Beltway is nearby, but Little Washington lies between two entrances and exits, at Central and Pennsylvania avenues.