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Real Estate

On Maryland’s Gibson Island, year-round living and year-round play

May 17, 2018 at 7:30 AM

Gibson Island was a mystery to J.W. Rayder for many years. Although his next-door neighbor in Chevy Chase, Md., Arabella “Donie” Hogentogler, would disappear many a weekend to the Maryland island, Rayder gave it little thought.

“For a long time, we had no idea where she was going,” Rayder said. “Then in the early 2000s, The Post’s Where We Live series featured Gibson Island. We quickly figured out that Gibson Island was Donie’s island.”

When Rayder and his family started looking for a weekend home, they searched mainly on the Eastern Shore. Hogentogler persuaded them to consider Gibson Island. Unlike the Eastern Shore, she told them, you don’t have to cross the Bay Bridge to get there.

“She made all the arrangements for our first visit, and there was no turning back,” Rayder said. “Donie was right. It was the perfect place for us.”

Rayder bought a four-bedroom, three-bathroom cottage on the Magothy River in 2008.

Hogentogler, who started going to the island in the 1940s, lived to 102. While it is probably a stretch to say her visits to Gibson Island contributed to her longevity, they certainly didn’t hurt.

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“A sense of peace”: Gibson Island is a privately incorporated island on the Chesapeake Bay, about an hour’s drive from Washington. In 1921, Baltimore judge W. Stuart Symington and his brother, Thomas, bought the island for $165,000 with the intention of creating a summer retreat for families. They hired landscape architects John Charles Olmsted and Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., brothers from Massachusetts and sons of the famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Sr., to plan the island’s 1,000 acres.

Although the Great Depression altered the original scope of the development, Gibson Island has remained true to the Olmsted brothers’ vision of a 20th-century planned recreational community. The Anne Arundel enclave is a weekend getaway mainly for Baltimoreans and Washingtonians but also has some year-round residents as well as second-home owners from Philadelphia and New York. They are attracted to the island for its way of life.

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Gregory A. Cross lived on Gibson Island year-round from 1999 to 2007. Since buying a home in Baltimore 11 years ago, he and his family have stayed on the island for summers, holidays and weekends. They own a 1926 cottage but are building a new home on the Magothy River.

“The moment you arrive and drive across the causeway, you feel like you have been propelled into another world,” Cross said. “There is a sense of peace, an appreciation for the beauty around you and a feeling like you have arrived home, a million miles from the metropolitan cities that are less than an hour away.”

Summer camp: For many residents, Gibson Island represents a return to a simpler time.

“My wife and I both grew up in small towns and wanted to raise our family in a similar environment and particularly one that allowed us to let [the children] play outside with few constraints and no safety worries,” Cross said. “There is a real sense of community. . . . Everyone is outside of their homes spending time walking, running, riding bikes, playing golf, swimming, etc. People stop along the way to chat with their friends. It is like having an extended family.”

Gibson Island has slips and moorings in the harbor, a boat repair yard, boat storage facilities and a boathouse. (Justin T. Gellerson/For The Washington Post)

Every day is summer camp on Gibson Island, whether you are a child or an adult. Recreational pursuits include boating, sailing, tennis, golf, swimming, skeet shooting, croquet, hiking, biking and fishing. The golf course, designed by Seth Raynor and Charles Blair Macdonald, was included in Anthony Pioppi’s book, “The Finest Nines,” on the top nine-hole golf courses in North America. Otter Pond has largemouth bass and rockfish. Seventy percent of the island is undeveloped forest.

What you won’t find are shops. There’s no commercial district on the island. The only buildings that aren’t residences are the post office, an Episcopal church, a country club, a yacht club and the Gibson Island Historical Society museum.

The recently refurbished Gibson Island Club, a private country club, is the island’s living and dining room. Although membership is not automatic for island residents, most homeowners belong. It is where they catch up with friends and enjoy the cooking of James Hudock, former chef at the Jefferson Hotel and the Sulgrave Club.

“The clubhouse is the hub of activity for the island,” said Rayder, who has been club president for nearly five years. “It is our gathering spot.”

Because the island is owned by the homeowners, the Gibson Island Corporation is responsible for maintaining the community. Each homeowner pays a monthly fee to the corporation that covers road maintenance, a police force, trash pickup and landscaping.

“The great thing about Gibson Island is that it can be anything you want it to be,” said Cross, who is in his fifth year as corporation president.

Gibson Island is bordered by the Chesapeake Bay on the east and the Magothy River on the west. (Justin T. Gellerson/For The Washington Post)

Living there: Gibson Island is bordered by the Chesapeake Bay on the east; the Magothy River on the west; and Redhouse Cove, Gibson Island Harbor and Mountain Road on the north.

The nearly 200 homes on the island are a mix of modest dwellings and grand houses, built in a range of styles that include Colonial, French, Spanish, Gothic, Tudor, art deco, Cape Cod, contemporary and modern.

In the past 12 months, eight properties have sold on Gibson Island, ranging from a five-bedroom, four-bathroom, 3,310-square-foot Colonial for $1.2 million to a five-bedroom, five-bathroom, 4,534-square-foot shingle-style home for $2.8 million, said Sarah Kanne, an associate broker with Gibson Island Corporation Real Estate.

There are nine homes for sale on Gibson Island, ranging from a four-bedroom, three-bathroom, 2,815-square-foot cottage for $839,900 to a four-bedroom, seven-bathroom, 8,489-square-foot contemporary home for $5 million.

Schools: There are no schools on Gibson Island. Children who live on the island attend Bodkin Elementary, Chesapeake Bay Middle and Chesapeake High.

Transit: There is no public transportation on the island. The MARC station near Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport is 21 miles from the island.


Kathy Orton is a reporter and Web editor for the Real Estate section. She covers the Washington metropolitan area housing market. Previously, she wrote for the Sports section. She came to The Washington Post in 1996 from the Los Angeles Daily News. She also worked at the Cincinnati Post.

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