In a city of historical sites, a notable one sits far off the tourist path, in Northwest Washington's Brightwood neighborhood.
Half-hidden behind a wrought-iron gate on bustling Georgia Avenue, tiny Battleground National Cemetery -- one of the nation's smallest national cemeteries -- commemorates the 41 soldiers who died defending nearby Fort Stevens from the Confederate forces of Jubal T. Early in July 1864.
Abraham Lincoln witnessed the Battle of Fort Stevens, making it the only known time that a sitting president came under enemy fire during a battle.
Two of the cannons that defended the fort flank the small cemetery. Several blocks away, at 13th and Quackenbos streets, a towering American flag and two more cannons stand atop the earth berms at Fort Stevens. The fort looks much as it did in the 1860s, when the federal government set up a ring of 68 earthenwork forts to protect against attack.
Directly across 13th street and in this century, Kenneth Butler has been tending his plot at the Fort Stevens community garden for 10 years. For $10 per year, he enjoys the opportunity to play farmer in the city, tending his crops daily and harvesting an impressive array of vegetables.
"Luckily, there's no deer problem. Our only threat is from a lack of rain, and the natives," he said, alluding to passersby who might understandably be tempted to help themselves to nature's bounty at the un-gated garden. Butler and his fellow farmers -- there are 50 plots in all -- hold a big party at the garden each June, cementing their ties to the community.
Housing prices in neighborhoods throughout the District, including Brightwood, have exploded in recent years. Buyers are drawn to Brightwood by a variety of housing stock, much of it affordable relative to other areas. As in other neighborhoods, this influx of residents is changing the neighborhood in a number of ways, including a shift in the racial mix from overwhelmingly African American to more ethnically mixed.
"It's diverse and accessible, an old established neighborhood where you can still find good deals," said real estate agent Brian Creamer of Habitat Real Estate Inc., He called it a neighborhood "on the leading edge" that is going through a "peak redevelopment renovation wave."
He said he enjoys working in Brightwood because so many of its homes have been occupied over the years by only one or two owners, who have cared well for their properties. "I think it's an honor to sell a property someone has owned for a long time," Creamer said.
Alver Pertilla is one of those longtime residents. Itching for a change, she toys with the idea of selling, but only if she can stay in the same neighborhood, and only if she finds a house she likes as much as the one she has now.
A grandmother who says she is in her seventies, Pertilla has lived in her house -- the same one -- for 30 years and has been married to her husband -- the same one -- for 50 years.
She bought her house for $60,000. "I thought it was too much back then," she said, but it's now worth about $400,000. Over the years, she has renovated a bathroom, added a porch and had the basement repaired.
"Oh, it's been through the mill, what with all my grandchildren," Pertilla said.
Like most people living in Brightwood, Pertilla is enthusiastic about the neighborhood. She said she considers the influx of young professionals to be a good thing.
Convenience is a must for her, because she does not drive. Her church, St. John United Baptist, is a big part of her life, and is just a short walk from her home. "Everything is right here for me, and I can get on a bus to anywhere," Pertilla said. "And I like that the neighbors keep their houses up."
Georgia Avenue's commercial corridor, which cuts a swath through the neighborhood, is in obvious need of updating in some areas, even ramshackle in others, yet it offers many services: shops, banks, convenience stores, restaurants, a day spa, and a state-of-the-art Safeway complete with an in-store Starbucks.
Additionally, the Colorado Kitchen, a burgeoning bright spot on Washington's culinary map that is known for its high-style southern-inspired cooking, great burgers and fabulous weekend brunches, draws people from all over the metropolitan area.
Brian White, 37, an information technology specialist at the Pentagon, recently moved to Brightwood from Alexandria. Although his commute has "doubled, tripled, or sometimes quadrupled, depending on traffic conditions," he is thrilled with his new house. White paid $640,000 for his red-brick Colonial, despite having capped his budget at $500,000.
"There was something about this place that just spoke to me," White said.
What he likes most about Brightwood: It's an established neighborhood with a very safe feeling and friendly people. "I absolutely love it here. It's a family-oriented, 2.3-children kind of a place. When I moved in, several people approached me to welcome me. They were very excited to get a new neighbor."
White wanted to avoid the noise and hubbub of neighborhoods such as Dupont Circle or Adams Morgan, which some might think a better fit for a single man. Instead, his first priority was having a back yard for his two "high-energy, outside dogs," Toby and Tally. White installed a fence immediately after moving in, and the dogs are happy to run around in the yard.
Having fallen in love with a five-bedroom "fixer upper" that is much bigger than he needs, White plans to renovate the lower level into a 700-square-foot rental unit that will help pay the mortgage.
"I will be deep into renovation for quite some time," he said.
White is not the only one renovating in Brightwood; signs of change are apparent everywhere.
The Lofts at Brightwood, now under construction on the site of the old Ibex nightclub, will offer luxury one- and two-bedroom condominiums upon its planned completion in April 2006. Down the block, Brightwood Elementary School is undergoing a massive renovation, the old building slowly being overtaken by a bright modern structure of gleaming glass and brick.
And the newly opened Takoma Community Center boasts an Olympic-sized swimming pool, a basketball court, a football field, a Little League baseball field, lighted softball and soccer fields, and tennis courts. With services for children, teens, adults, families and seniors, and specialized programs for people with disabilities, it is quickly becoming a hub of the community.
Alver Pertilla, left, chats at the Fort Stevens Recreation Center with Peggy Smallwood.