Washington Grove defines itself as a town within a forest. But as the creep of development in Montgomery County expands into its backyard, this small community is earning a new reputation as a town that fights back.

“Washington Grove is sort of like the little engine that could,” said Susan Van Nostrand, a Compass real estate agent and Washington Grove resident. “They made the 7-Eleven move. And it’s like, nobody makes 7-Elevens move. But Washington Grove was able to shut down the 7-Eleven.”

Just outside Gaithersburg, Washington Grove is a town of 560 residents set among 200 acres of forest and parkland.

The community was formed in the 1870s by Methodists in search of a campground for preaching missions and an escape from Washington’s punishing summer heat.

Today, the town retains its summer-camp character. Gravel walking paths wind through an eclectic mix of Carpenter Gothic cottages, ramblers, American Foursquares, Cape Cods and Craftsman bungalows. Streets are marked with hand-painted wooden signs.

“Have you ever gone on vacation and think, wow, some people get to live here year-round? They’re so lucky,” said Van Nostrand. “I think people sometimes come to Washington Grove, and they say the same thing.”

The oldest houses in town are vestiges of the Methodist tents that preceded them. Houses within the Sacred Circle, the site of the Methodist tabernacle, retain their original tent-like structure.

“The local lore says that within some you still can find the canvas that was originally there,” said Bob Booher, a retired architect and chair of the Washington Grove Historic Preservation Commission. “People have reported finding canvas. I can’t say for a fact, but it could very well be.”

But residents who live in these historic homes must live without some amenities of modern life. Many homes don’t have driveways. Homes like Van Nostrand’s, built in the 1880s, lack basements, solid foundations and sufficient storage. Mail is not delivered within town. Instead, residents retrieve their mail from the post office in the town’s small commercial center.

“We have chronic problems with Amazon because you can’t get to certain addresses by driving,” said John Compton, Washington Grove’s volunteer mayor.

But residents here are willing to trade convenience for charm.

“There are people who, every time I have an open house in Washington Grove, I see them,” said Van Nostrand. “They’re waiting for the perfect house. And I know a number of people who will buy a house just to get in [to Washington Grove].”

Some residents have lived in the Grove for generations, and many have lived in multiple houses around town.

“Most of the time, when people move here, they live here until either a job takes them out of the metro area, or they die,” said Van Nostrand.

The community here is tightknit. It’s one of Washington Grove’s main draws. The town offers free swimming lessons at Maple Lake in the summers and hosts a film series that runs in the winter. Annual events such as the Fourth of July Parade, the Labor Day weekend Grove Triathlon, and Bluestoberfest give life here a rhythm.

“I like to say that the people who move into this community have already drunk the Kool-Aid because they see it, they understand it, and they want to keep it,” said Booher.

Preserving the town’s historical integrity has been a constant challenge. As Montgomery County’s population has exploded, so, too, has the anxiety felt among Washington Grove residents.

Washington Grove was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 and has used the designation to fiercely defend its borders. The town has disputed the proposed location of the Intercounty Connector’s interchange with Interstate 370. It contested CSX’s plans to replace the historic “Humpback Bridge.” It has annexed homes and fields to protect its borders from large-scale housing projects such as the neighboring Piedmont Crossing. It’s taken on 7-Eleven — and won.

In 2013, Preservation Maryland added Washington Grove to its list of endangered Maryland sites.

“We try to protect our borders from encroachment,” said Van Nostrand. “All we can do is try to be good neighbors and encourage others to be good neighbors.”

Living there: Washington Grove is bounded on the north and west by Gaithersburg and the Saybrooke community, on the south and west by Railroad Street, and on the east by Ridge Road.

All homes in Washington Grove are single-family homes. There are two active listings on the market. One is a four-bedroom, two-bathroom Georgian house listed at $1.1 million. Its two-acre lot can be subdivided into three parcels. The other is a three-bedroom, three-bathroom ranch house listed at $449,900.

There were nine sales in Washington Grove in 2019 — an unusually high number for the area. The average price of homes sold was $464,000. The lowest, a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home, sold for $255,000. The highest, an updated four-bedroom, three-bathroom house, sold for $665,000.

Transit: Washington Grove is served by the MARC train and Ride On bus routes 57 and 61. It is two miles from the Shady Grove Metro station. Interstate 270 is easily accessible.

Schools: Washington Grove Elementary, Forest Oak Middle, Gaithersburg High.