By Reva G. Harris
Joy Jeffries is a friend of mine who has lived in Hyattsville since 1997. In June, she sold her well-appointed Victorian home, which was built in 1894. Her home was the venue for many fabulous parties, including the Hyattsville Preservation Association’s 2016 fall picnic.
Before the sale, I stopped by to ask Joy about her 24 years of residing in Hyattsville. She shared, “When my brother attended DeMatha [Catholic High School] in the ’80s, I would drive to Hyattsville from New Jersey to attend his football games. I fell in love with bungalow-style homes. In 1986 when my job relocated, I moved to Germantown.”
In the mid-1990s, Joy’s son, Paige, was also a student at DeMatha. “I was ready to buy a home, and I knew I wanted to live in Hyattsville. My realtor kept showing me newer homes in Adelphi and University Park. … In 1997, I met Christine Parus, who was one of the top realtors in Hyattsville,” explained Joy. “She showed me lots of bungalows. I made an offer on a bungalow on Jefferson Street that was not accepted. Christine said, ‘There is a house that has been on the market for quite a while that I believe you will like.’ She showed me the house, and I purchased it.”
After Joy moved to her Gallatin Street home, she began to see ways the street could be improved. “When I moved to Hyattsville, in 1997, my street was zoned as commercial. I was appalled by the amount of trash that accumulated on the street where City Hall is located,” she explained. “One day, while I was picking up trash in my pothole-filled alley, I met Chris Currie, who represented Ward 1 on the city council.”
Currie helped Joy get the city to fix up the alley, provide residential parking and change the street’s zoning to residential. “People would say to me, ‘You need to run for mayor or city council.’ Police Chief Holland asked me to be the neighborhood watch captain. I was not interested in a position. I am just an active citizen who wants to live in a neighborhood where I can enjoy my surroundings.
“In 2005, a few kids decided to spray paint [an inflammatory comment] on my gate. Hyattsville used to be like Mayberry, so I recognized the initials of one of the kids. I told his mother, ‘I’m not going to call the police, but they need to come up here and clean my yard.’ I was disappointed when a city code enforcement officer threatened to give me a citation for not removing the graffiti after I was told the city would remove it.”
Despite a few challenges with neighbors and city staff, Joy made many friends in Hyattsville and has served on several boards, including that of the Hyattsville Preservation Association (HPA), which she has been on since 2015.
“My home was featured on the HPA home tour, in 2014. That year’s theme involved the covenant for no Blacks in Hyattsville [racially restrictive covenants]. One well-known neighbor, who was touring my home asked, ‘How does it feel to be a darkie living in Hyattsville, showcasing your home?’ I was so shocked that someone would say that to me. I ignored him. Before he left, he repeated his question. I responded, ‘I’m done, now. You can get off my porch!’
“Sometimes, when I am outside cleaning my yard, people ask me to work for them. I let them know that I am the homeowner. Other times, people stare at me as if to ask, ‘What are you doing living here?’ Just the other day, while I was cleaning outside my home, a new resident asked to hire me. I responded, ‘Excuse me. I live here.’
“The thing that is so special about living in an old home in Hyattsville is that you can put your hands in the soil. You get a chance to cultivate your home. Some people assume that if you’re working in your yard, you are a hired hand. Perhaps, if they began to work in their own yards, planting flowers and pulling weeds themselves, they would really enjoy what it means to live in Hyattsville.
Joy has deep affection for Hyattsville and expressed concerns about recent development, saying, “People move to Hyattsville because it is special. But I am afraid that with all of the new developments, Hyattsville is losing its hometown charm. There is too much traffic. The city seems to be overdeveloping, with no regard for the people who have lived here a long time.”
Although Joy has enjoyed living in her Gallatin Street home for 24 years, she decided the time was right for selling, in part because the house has 28 narrow steps, which became a more obvious challenge as Joy thought about aging in place. “I am sad to be leaving my home, but now is the best time to move,” said Joy. “Right now, it’s a seller’s market. I would love to stay in Hyattsville. I want to find an old bungalow that is suitable for my mother and me.”