In 1958, when Chuck Rich and his family moved into their house in the Kemp Mill community of Silver Spring, life unfolded through a dramatically different lens. The nation’s capital had four over-the-air TV stations broadcasting programming in black-and-white. A typical new house cost only five figures, and a Nathan’s hot dog set you back a quarter.
“I was 6 years old,” said Rich, 62, “and we moved in on Thanksgiving weekend.” His parents paid just under $23,000; today, he believes the house might bring about $315,000.
Kemp Mill, just east of Wheaton, cuts a wide swath through high-density residential areas, highlighted by a stock of older houses and high-rise apartment buildings along busy Arcola Avenue. If you follow Grays Lane past Kemp Mill synagogue, it becomes a gravel surface from which you can glimpse goats and roosters behind wire fencing — vestiges of its semi-rural past.
“I remember Grays Lane with little farmhouses,” said Rich, a former film critic for WTOP radio and the Voice of America.
“Kemp Mill is quite ethnically diverse,” added Rich, “but people might not realize it. . . . People sometimes think it’s all Orthodox Jews, because they are quite visible, certainly on Friday evenings and Saturdays, when they walk — because they don’t drive on the Sabbath — to one of the several synagogues nearby.”
Mill heritage: Kemp Mill’s roots date back 220 years, according to the Montgomery County Department of Parks and Planning. A 1794 map of Maryland shows the presence of a saw and grist mill near the intersection of Kemp Mill Road and Randolph Road, just east of where John F. Kennedy High School is today. The mill was owned by Evan Thomas, a Quaker minister and political organizer.
The name Kemp Mill was hatched in 1857 when Francis Valdenar sold it to George Kemp, whose family ran the business until 1905. But the heart of milling moved to the Midwest, shuttering many small operations like Kemp Mill. In 1919, the mill burned. The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission bought the site in 1957.
The neighborhood of Kemp Mill began soon after with the construction of single-family units on both sides of Lamberton Drive, off Arcola Avenue, said Barbara Ciment, an agent with Long and Foster and a longtime resident of the community.
Over the years, the neighborhood expanded to 1,693 houses. Nearby is Kemp Mill Farms, a 50-year-old neighborhood with 110 houses north and west of Kemp Mill Road. The newest community, which dates to 1984, contains 70 houses west of Arcola from Kersey Road to Kemp Mill Road. The community also includes University Towers, with 523 condominium units, and the Warwick, with 393 rental units. Both were built in the 1960s.
Recreation and food: Along with convenient access to myriad houses of worship, Kemp Mill adjoins Wheaton Regional Park. There’s a trail for riding horses. Equestrians also can board their horses, ride and take lessons. The park has softball fields, indoor and outdoor tennis courts, an ice arena and a dog park. Wedged between Randolph Road and Glenallan Avenue, Brookside Gardens and adjoining Brookside Nature Centers function as secluded sanctuaries. They’re ideal for admiring exotic flora while stealing a few contemplative moments in a woodsy setting.
For Rich, Kemp Mill offers more nearby amenities than ever. Just up Lamberton Drive from his front door is a shopping center where he can find award-winning pizza at Ben Yehuda. At Shalom Kosher Market, he can satisfy a taste for Israeli-style chicken schnitzel or a loaf of fresh challah bread to share with his wife, Rita. The community bulletin board at the entrance to the busy store is filled with news of Jewish dance festivals, seminars and Hebrew immersion classes for youngsters.
“Kemp Mill is a very close-knit community where everyone knows, but more importantly cares, about one another,” said Ron Eloul, owner of the Kosher Pastry Oven, a popular early-morning meet-up point. “There are always Kemp Mill-wide e-mails going around about donating items, catching rides from one place to another, and more acts of community.”
Living there: Kemp Mill is roughly bordered by Arcola Avenue, Hermleigh Road, the Northwest Trail and the Northwood Chesapeake Bay Trail.
In the past year, 45 homes sold in Kemp Mill, at prices ranging from $280,000 for a foreclosed three-bedroom townhouse to $720,000 for an expanded and renovated Bedford Colonial, Ciment said. Eleven properties are listed for sale from $420,000 to $796,000, and seven others are under contract.
Schools: Kemp Mill and Arcola elementary, Colonel E. Brooke Lee Middle, and Northwood and John F. Kennedy highs.
Transit: Many commuters going to Washington use the Montgomery County Ride-On bus or Metrobus to Metro stations in Forest Glen, Wheaton and Glenmont.
Crime: Over the past 12 months, there were no major crimes such as homicide, rape or aggravated assault in Kemp Mill, according to Lucille Baur, a spokeswoman for Montgomery County police. There were four residential burglaries and one theft from a vehicle, she added.
Tony Glaros is a freelance writer.