“It’s the kind of neighborhood that draws people out,” Susan Morrel-Samuels says over coffee in her anemone-filled backyard garden. She and her husband, Palmer, moved to Chelsea’s Park St. from Honolulu in 1991, and raised their three kids here.

Her daily walks typically include running into one or more neighbors and a friendly chat. She cites these day-to-day interactions as the key to a close-knit community of homeowners and renters, young families and older people. There’s rarely a reason to invite people over, and although she often hangs out with neighbors on her screened porch, it’s more of a spontaneous, organic system.

Their kids are now grown, and two have kids of their own. Palmer still works, primarily as an expert witness for employment discrimination cases. Susan’s retired from the University of Michigan, where she headed research groups working on violence prevention. They’re just a couple of blocks from downtown Chelsea, and now that she’s free during the day, she often heads down there, where she says she can find just about anything she needs. The library is “amazing,” and she also frequents restaurants—favorites include the Grateful Crow and the Chelsea Alehouse—and the Purple Rose Theatre. At the Agricole Farm Stop, she can pick up whatever she wants for dinner. She also likes to browse Chelsea Farmers Supply, where they sell animal feed, gardening supplies, and, in the springtime, chicks.

“It certainly gives me a great sense of place,” she says. “I feel really at home here … I have people I can call on if I need something, and they can call on me when they need something, and that’s a really good feeling.” 

Across the street from their charming green-and-yellow historic home, there’s an apartment complex where the original Chelsea High School stood (two moves later, it’s now about a mile-and-a-half southeast). “See those chairs over there?” she asks, pointing at an eclectic group nearby. A couple of years ago, she says, someone put out one chair. Then, a day or two later, another chair appeared, followed by a birdhouse, and a few more chairs, and a little table.

Now, she says, people gather there every day. “It just started with one chair!” she exclaims, shaking her head in amusement.