Uphill and down, amenities abound

Locator map of Breton Bay, St. Mary's County
M.K. Cannistra/The Washington Post
By Jim Brocker
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, January 7, 2011; 8:43 AM

In Breton Bay, residents say they live either "up the hill" or "down the hill." The view from the top of that hill, which overlooks the St. Mary's County community's namesake waterway, has been an attraction for hundreds of years.

Today, the clubhouse of the Breton Bay Golf and Country Club occupies a prime spot on the hilltop. The club's golf course, swimming pool and tennis courts attract families with children to subdivisions up the hill along Bull Road and down the hill along Society Hill Road.

While Breton Bay's setting is picturesque, the draw of family remains the biggest lure for most residents. And Breton Bay lies within commuting distance of the Southern Maryland employment centers of Lexington Park and Leonardtown.

Joe Bell, a program manager for the Naval Air Systems Command at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Lexington Park, moved to Breton Bay with his wife, Kathy, about nine years ago. Kathy grew up in Breton Bay, Joe in the Leonardtown area, and Breton Bay offered the family advantages they were seeking. "There's a lot to do for kids, and you don't have to work about getting them from one place to another," said Joe Bell, 43, who is active in the Breton Bay Civic Association.

For Bell, a golfer, the presence of the course was another selling point, and his three children, ages 13, 12, and 7, spend a lot of timeat the pool during the summer. Bell's parents keep a boat at the community's marina.

On a fall Saturday, John and Julie Norris were packing their children, ages 8, 6 and 2, into their van for a trip to a nearby corn maze. The Norrises had lived in a townhouse in the Annapolis area, and Julie Norris, 34, now a pharmacist at St. Mary's Hospital, wasn't sure she wanted to move to St. Mary's County, where her husband, John, 40, a lawyer, grew up. In fact, "I said I was never going to move down this way," Julie Norris said.

But Breton Bay provided the type of suburban setting the Norrises were seeking, close to neighborhood schools and their workplaces. Their home backs up to the golf course, which winds through the neighborhoods along the bottom of the hill. "No one is ever going to build behind us," she said.

A neighbor of the Norrises', Rocky Woodburn, 60, says Breton Bay is filled with residents who have ties to the military and the Navy facility. He works there now as a private contractor. Woodburn moved from Mechanicsville in northern St. Mary's County years ago when he was looking for a place that was "off the beaten bath but still had neighbors," he said. After raising two daughters, he's now a grandfather and has become "the oldest on the street," he said.

It's the kind of atmosphere that Marianne Romero relishes. Romero, the president of the civic association, commutes two hours each way to her job in the District but says it's worth it to return to Breton Bay. "Every day I come home, it's like I'm on vacation," she said. "It's like coming home to heaven." Romero, 55, a grandmother of three who lives "up the hill" in one of the wooded subdivisions, enjoys taking her kayak down to the waterfront, where the association, which sponsors community events, maintains a park, a pier and a playground for its members.

Breton Bay features a range of housing styles and prices, ranging from $150,000 to more than $2 million, said Jan Barnes, an agent for Century 21. "You've got houses in the woods, houses on the water, houses on the golf course," she said. Breton Bay also includes a small townhouse development near the waterfront. Most of the wooded lots are at the top of the hill, while land at the bottom of the hill, which had been farmed years ago, remains more open. Part of the community has public water and sewer service, but some areas are served by wells and septic systems.

Developer Tom Waring built the community that surrounds the Breton Bay Golf and Country Club. "I bought it as raw land, subdivided it, built the course and lived there," said Waring, now 88, who still works each day at his company, Cherry Cove Land Development. Waring said he deliberately set aside buffer areas for drainage and aimed for a "good mix of houses" so the neighborhood would serve a range of incomes.

Breton Bay has been settled since the 17th century, when a group of Jesuit priests brought their missionary work north from St. Mary's City. They lived in a house known as Society Hill, which is open today for catered events as the Old Breton Inn. Barnes and her husband operated the facility for two years. It also served for a time as the clubhouse for the country club.

Justin Heimer, 30, the golf course's teaching professional, grew up on and around the club since his father, Mike, was the head pro for years and his grandparents operated the Old Breton Inn. "I was born during the member-guest [tournament] in 1980," he said. Now Heimer and his wife, Leslie, live with their two boys, ages 8 and 3, in a house that overlooks the 16th green. Leslie Heimer, 33, who met her husband while he was playing professional golf in Florida, has become active in the civic association and has embraced the community. She talks fondly about the record snows last winter and hundreds of children sledding down the steep hill along the first fairway.

Halloween is a big deal around Breton Bay, Leslie Heimer said, as parents dress up with the children and bring tables out along the streets. "It's a very social community," she said. The country club sponsors events including a Hawaiian night, a crab feast and dances.

Waring, the original developer, remains proud of the neighborhood. "When I drive over that hill, it makes me so happy I was able to do something that beautiful," he said. "I've gotten so much pleasure out of it. . . . It's been a great experience."

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