UP IN THE northwestern quadrant of Philadelphia, all roads lead to Cheltenham.

Then, on the other side of Cheltenham Avenue, they all change names.

The dependable numbered streets on William Penn's grid, like North 19th Street, become byways with exotic pastoral names, like Penrose Avenue.

It can be vaguely unsettling to cross over to the other side. We're reminded of that "Go toward the light" scene from "Poltergeist."

Really, what does any of us know — beyond the Cheltenham Square Mall and maybe the Keswick Theatre — about that whole mysterious wedge of Montgomery County that pokes down into Philadelphia's northern boundary?

In preparation for today's installment in our "Secrets of" series, the Daily News has been exploring the land beyond Cheltenham Avenue, and we've found a lot to recommend it.

Heck, even Frank Rizzo ended up in Cheltenham eventually. He's buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery there. (More about that inside.)

Mayberry 19012

Before we reveal the township's best secrets — including a rollicking rockabilly joint, a frou-frou Parisian-style gift shop and a phenomenal swimsuit store — a few words about the natives:

The distinguishing mark of a true Cheltenhammer is an apple-pie earnestness that almost out-Mayberrys Mayberry.

To give one timely example, Friday is Government Day, a 57-year-old Cheltenham tradition in which schoolchildren, after pledging allegiance to the flag and singing "God Bless America," troop through the Township Administration Building knocking on doors and politely asking the bureaucrats inside to describe their duties.

"They go to building and zoning, accounting, the tax department, public relations, building codes, human resources," said Sue Fries, a township employee who organizes the event.

As we said earlier, the people in this town are earnest.

If you had to name the prime values that civic-minded residents uphold, you'd want to start with diversity. In the last census, Cheltenham was 24 percent African-American and 6.5 percent Asian. "We embrace that," said Township Manager Dave Kraynik. "We're proud of it."

Education would also be high on the list. Admirably, every public-school kid, whether he's from an apartment near Philly or a mansion in tony Wyncote, feeds into the blue-ribbon Elkins Park Middle School for fifth and sixth grade, and all the kids in a grade continue to move together through high school.

Cheltenhammers are also big on pitching in to do your part. Kraynik said there's not one but five volunteer fire companies in the township, some with fifth- and sixth-generation firefighters.

An offbeat artistic sensibility is another thread in the community fabric. In 1940, a group of women artists commandeered a condemned schoolhouse and decreed it the Cheltenham Art Center. It still operates today as a magnet for bohemian suburbanites, and its loopy creative spirit infuses the whole town.

Religion is big here, too, Kraynik said. In fact, it's massive. Apparently, after God instructs his flock to build a house of worship up in this neck of the woods, he then adds, "And supersize it."

The Babel of imposing churches and temples runs the religious gamut, from Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church on the Philly side of Cheltenham Avenue to Frank Lloyd Wright's spiked Beth Sholom synagogue and the copper-domed Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, both on Old York Road.

Village people

Cheltenham Township is a relatively new entity, formed in 1900 to consolidate a hodgepodge of unincorporated villages. While the villages share one government and a school district, they've kept their old names, such as LaMott, Glenside, Elkins Park, Melrose Park, Wyncote and Cheltenham Village.

Our "Secrets of Cheltenham" section uses some village addresses when we direct you to points of interest. Don't worry — it's all Cheltenham. (Except for the parts of several villages — notably Glenside — that are officially located in Abington. "Don't ask me," sighed Kraynik.)

You may also notice that many people you meet in the township pronounce its name as Cheltenham, with a ch sound, while many others (according to Fries, they're mostly newbies) say it Sheltenham.

Fries said longtime residents feel honor bound to correct new arrivals. "They'll say, 'Oh, I just moved into Sheltenham,'" she said. "Our response is, 'Do you go to Shurch?'

"But we're nice about it," she added. *