“Our neighborhood consists of a variety of styles of architecture — Colonial, Cape Cod, Tudor — rather than just one type of design, which is unique,” said Tracy Jacobs, who has served as vice president and president of the neighborhood’s civic association.
Individuality in exterior decorating choices is hardly discouraged in North Hills. Moreover, despite its proximity to bustling, modern Colesville Road and the Beltway, the neighborhood gives residents a feeling of stepping back into a quieter time.
North Hills sits next to a wooded 440-acre section of Sligo Creek Stream Valley Park, and according to resident Sally Gagné’s 2003 book “North Hills of Sligo Creek,” 355 homes fill the 150 acres of the community. The Brunett house, the original home of the neighborhood, was built as a farmhouse in the Civil War era. Renovated in 1939 to become the columned Georgian-style home it is now, it rests on one of the neighborhood’s higher hills.
Subsequent building came in spurts throughout the 1930s and 1940s, with houses added and renovated. Because North Hills developed gradually, a wide variety of housing style, including Colonials, bungalows, and midcentury moderns and Tudor homes, line the roads. On one street, twin 1939 Cape Cods built by the Public Works Administration mirror each other. Gagné’s book notes the lack of Craftsman-style houses, which are found in downtown Silver Spring but had lost traction by 1930.
Beltway construction in 1961 affected the community, Gagné writes, because those who lived in the highway’s path had to sell their houses to the state. Some, she reports, were bulldozed, while others were burned to give the fire department some practice extinguishing blazes. Then as now, access to the Beltway provided commuters with routes to work. Also, there are Metrobus and Ride-On stops on Colesville Road; the Silver Spring Metro station is a little more than a mile away.
Newman has lived in North Hills for 15 years. She and her husband moved there from California while both were active-
duty Marines transferred to the Pentagon.
“You can drive into the neighborhood and forget how close-in you are with the old-growth trees and established homes,” Newman said. “I grew up in a New England town of older homes, with close neighbors. We were drawn to the aesthetics of the neighborhood,” she added, because it has “the same ‘vibe’ with which I grew up, as well as the location.”
Other residents embrace North Hills’ access to nature. “What we did not realize,” said Annemarie Mott Ewing, who has lived in the neighborhood for four years, “was how much we’d fall in love with the bike path along Sligo Creek.”
“We’ve spent countless hours with the kids throwing rocks in the creek or looking for wildlife. It is hard to believe you are inside the Beltway when you are on a morning run and pass a deer and a great blue heron along the way,” Ewing said.
Realty agent Rhonda Mortensen sells homes in North Hills, and lives there as well. She says most new residents are not first-time buyers, because the houses are custom and sit on slightly larger lots than elsewhere in Silver Spring. “There are a lot of people who want to stay in Silver Spring, but will move over here from one of the other neighborhoods,” she said. “Silver Spring also gets a ton of buyers from D.C.” Mortensen herself moved to North Hills from Indian Spring, a nearby neighborhood. “My kids got tall and I needed more room,” she said.
Many point to the family-friendly nature of the community, which hosts events such as craft and knitting nights and potluck dinners. Jacobs has served as vice president and president of the civic association and is raising four children in North Hills. “Every year, we have a neighborhood fall festival at Halloween,” she said, “where all of the neighborhood kids and some adults get dressed in their costumes. We have a moon bounce, hot dogs, popcorn, games and home-baked treats.” Because North Hills’ students are part of Montgomery County’s Downcounty Consortium, which permits some school choice, not all public school students attend schools in their immediate neighborhoods.
North Hills homes range in price from as low as $250,000 to around $700,000. The more modestly priced tend to sit on or adjacent to busy Colesville Road. Others are in the leafier center of the neighborhood, farther from the traffic noise. While the civic association is active, North Hills has no homeowners association to dictate uniformity.
“If you care what color your neighbor is painting his mailbox, then this may not be the neighborhood for you,” Newman said. She points to a climate that fosters “lots of respect for individual property rights.” According to Newman, the old-fashioned appeal of North Hills endures. “Most of the folks who live here seem to enjoy the nostalgic ideal.”
Eliza McGraw is a freelance writer.