The family focus endures in Montgomery's Sherwood Forest

By Jim Brocker
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, March 22, 2011; 12:38 AM

The Victorian house in the center of Montgomery County's Sherwood Forest neighborhood has overlooked the surrounding land for more than 200 years. Back in those early days, it lay just off the Glenmont-Colesville Road in the midst of Westover Farm, where crops such as corn and oats grew on nearly 300 acres.

Now, the house is encircled by Colonials, split-levels, ramblers and an elementary school. Families arrived more than 50 years ago, after the farm was sold in pieces to developers. But Richard Curtis, whose family owned the land, kept 10 acres, including the house at the center of the property, and moved there to raise his own family in the late 1950s.

Curtis, a former Navy pilot, still lives in the house at age 92 and has watched a community grow where those rolling farm fields once were. His children grew up in Sherwood Forest, and the neighborhood remains family-friendly.

The Robin Hood Swim Club, the focal point of the community throughout the summer, sits on a portion of Curtis's original 10 acres. He leased the land to the neighborhood's community association years ago and guaranteed a loan that eventually enabled the membership to build the swimming pool and purchase the land and the surrounding grounds.

Curtis called it a "natural chain of events."

"I had four children," he said. "They had friends that needed a place to swim. [The association leaders] were looking for a spot to build a pool. I suggested this one and helped them with it. . . . I think the pool has been a nice feature in bringing the community together."

That pool has now served generations of Sherwood Forest families. Carolyn Bauer's parents helped get the swim club started, and she spent her childhood summers at poolside, competing with her friends on the Robin Hood swim team. Now Bauer, 46, has moved back to Sherwood Forest, and her three children, ages 16, 13 and 9, are enjoying summers at Robin Hood. "It's a huge deal in the neighborhood," said Bauer, who is on the pool's board of directors. The swim club has a picnic area; features volleyball, tennis and basketball; and sponsors a Fourth of July parade.

Bauer's community connections helped find her family's current home, which was purchased from a woman whose son she knew from the swim team. "She said, 'I can only sell my house to someone I know,' " Bauer recalled.

Bauer has lived in her Sherwood Forest split-level for 11 years and says the neighborhood is perfect for families. "You have [Westover] elementary school you can walk to, a pool you can walk to. . . . That's what makes this neighborhood different from another one." Bauer's parents still live nearby, and three of her neighbors are original homeowners.

Dave Michaels, 59, moved to Sherwood Forest with his parents in his early teens. I thought I died and went to heaven," he said. "Anything any teenager could want was here." Michaels soon met a group of friends in the neighborhood who attended local schools together. He remembers the arrival of the McDonald's at New Hampshire Avenue and Randolph Road as a big event for young people in the late 1960s.

The neighborhood has transitioned from those original families, and a new generation is beginning to move in. "I welcome the changes," Michaels said. "It's a natural thing, keeps things dynamic," noting that the county's work to upgrade Westover Elementary School has added to the neighborhood's value.

Long & Foster agent Dave Savercool and his wife, Susan, moved to the area about 15 years ago from another Silver Spring neighborhood, seeking a bigger house for their three children. Many families come to Sherwood Forest seeking more space, Dave Savercool said. "There's a fair share of government workers, university types," he said, and in the past five or six years, workers from the nearby Food and Drug Administration have discovered the neighborhood.

Sherwood Forest properties range from the mid-$400,000s to the mid-$500,000s, not counting foreclosures or short sales, Savercool said. The lots range from quarter-acre to larger, more wooded tracts. Initially, the Savercools, who had lived in a more densely populated area, were concerned that the larger lots could mean less interaction among families. "We found it was the exact opposite," Dave Savercool said. "People feel connected here. People know each other. Your friends start to be defined depending on who your kids hang out with."

Richard Groom, 66, whose children also grew up in Sherwood Forest, says he has maintained the relationships he forged with neighbors whose children attended the elementary school and the pool. "We just had a blast," he said. At the pool, "we would have dances and activities that would engage the entire community," he said. Groom's book club just celebrated its 20th year, and he plays golf with friends he met in the community's early days.

The neighborhood has proved convenient to Groom's workplace in Columbia, an easy drive north along Route 29. Sherwood Forest, located just off Randolph Road, is about 15 minutes from the Beltway and is near several shopping centers. Another major highway, the Intercounty Connector, will pass just north of the area when construction is complete.

Groom bought his home in 1971 because the neighborhood featured large lots and mature trees. "It was called Sherwood Forest, and it literally was a forest," he said. Many of the houses feature landscaped front yards and mature trees throughout the back yards. "We all take pride in the appearance of the houses," Michaels said. "That's a big plus."

Curtis, the original landowner, and his wife, Joan, have restored and upgraded their home, which dates back to the late 1700s. Richard Curtis remembers the area's rural past, when the center of local commerce consisted of a general store/post office and Esso station at the corner of what is now New Hampshire Avenue and Randolph Road.

Although Sherwood Forest has become suburban, many of the properties, including Curtis's home, have a spacious, semi-rural look. There are no sidewalks or curbs along the streets, and over the years, cherry trees planted along the roadways have matured and now provide a spectacular spring display. "We don't know why people go to the Tidal Basin," Bauer said.

Groom says walking around the neighborhood is a delight: "It takes you hours, because you end up talking to people."

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