In 1664, 10 years after he arrived in Maryland as an indentured servant, Thomas Tolly bought 100 acres surrounding a point of land where the Severn River meets the Chesapeake Bay. Since then, Tolly Point, as it came to be called, and the whole Bay Ridge area have undergone multiple personality changes.
Once the site of Quaker-run farms, by the late 1800s Bay Ridge had been transformed into a popular "excursion" destination, complete with a grand Victorian hotel, bandstands and the world's second-largest "gravity railroad," an early form of roller coaster.
By 1915, World War I and a devastating fire at the hotel brought an end to the glamorous resort. The smaller Tudor-style Bay Ridge Inn that remained reflected the area's newly subdued personality. By 1941, Bay Ridge had become a quiet summer colony.
With only a handful of year-round residents in the neighborhood, Thanksgiving Day in 1950 found a young Chris Cable, then a visitor and now a Bay Ridge resident, walking halfway across the community just to find another child her age to play with. By 1962, however, Bay Ridge had gone through yet another evolutionary cycle, becoming a viable year-round residential community.
Enter Bay Ridge and the temperature drops 10 degrees, sheltered as the community is by 84 acres of undeveloped, protected forest known as the Big Woods. From Tolly Point, one can see the Bay Bridge, the U.S. Naval Academy and Thomas Point Light. Open on three sides to the water, Bay Ridge is a boating paradise--and a draw for walkers and cyclists. It's also an eclectic community where summer cottages, now winterized, sit next to gabled Victorians, California moderns and cozy Cape Cods.
Watermen share the beaches and docks with CEOs. There's an egalitarian component to Bay Ridge, said Linda Bednarek, a resident since 1977 who commutes daily to her government job in Washington. Bay Ridgers, she said, are not too impressed with "who they are and what they've done." Or, as retired journalist James McNelis noted, "When you're on the bay, tides and wind rule."
Twenty percent of Bay Ridge residents claim third-, fourth- or fifth-generation roots. But missing, residents said, is any "us against them" division between newcomers and old-timers. And, Bednarek added, Bay Ridge gives its youngsters the sense that "whether they go off to Harvard, the Naval Academy or the community college, everyone is interested in what they are doing."
With northeasters, hurricanes, deep drifting snow and errant wildlife, Bay Ridgers experience a lot of nature--and seem to take its quirks in stride. Carol Cushard Patterson (author with fellow Bay Ridge native Jane Wilson McWilliams of "Bay Ridge on the Chesapeake" [Brighton Editions, 1986]), has had to join her husband in learning screen repair after ducks on a mission during courting season repeatedly flew into their screened porch.
Susan Zorn, president of the Bay Ridge Garden Club and a real estate agent with Long & Foster, recalls efforts to save the fish in her front-yard pond. Realizing they were an irresistible snack for blue heron, Zorn erected a regal, imitation heron to stand watch. The fish still succumbed, but the real heron took time out to snuggle up to the fake one before flying off.
Individualism is treasured in this enclave of 330 households, so community rules are few: No on-street parking; no dogs running free; no claiming, by adverse possession, private use of the common areas. And, above all, protect the fragile shoreline.
The 72-year-old community association has long been the agent of controlled change. When the Bay Ridge Inn closed at the end of 1997, putting its 33-acre, $3.1 million waterfront property up for grabs, developers may have drooled, but the locals took charge. They approached the Chesapeake Bay Foundation about preserving the "conservation lab" qualities of the Bay Ridge Inn property.
The approach came at a good time: The foundation had lost its bid to build a new headquarters in Eastport and was delighted with this new habitat. The foundation donated 2 1/2 acres, including 200 feet of beachfront property, for community use.
Like others, Patterson's family is raising oysters under a community pier, as part of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's two-state effort to return the water-filtering mollusks to a sizable population. Whether the issue is containing beach erosion, determining land use or monitoring legislation, Bay Ridge residents will be found in the forefront of local conservation efforts.
One current priority is working with the Bay Ridge Trust, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving undeveloped land on the Annapolis Neck Peninsula.
There is almost a magnetic pull that draws people to Bay Ridge. For some, it's the view and the water accessibility. For others, it's the quiet pace of life--the sunset strolls, the sounds of osprey and early-morning kayaking on Black Walnut Creek.
Jack Flynn, a New Yorker who moved to Bay Ridge in 1981, said his first reaction when seeing the area was, "Nothing this good could exist 30 miles outside of Washington, D.C.!"
The tug Ken Karsten must have felt came from a slightly different force. After looking at waterfront property up and down the East Coast, Karsten, now a dock master for the community's marina, found his ideal home in Bay Ridge three years ago. After moving in, he found that his house backed up to another Karsten house. The owner turned out to be Kurt Karsten, a distant cousin who had sailed with Ken when they were children in Connecticut.
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WHERE WE LIVE
BOUNDARIES: Chesapeake Bay to the east, Lake Ogleton and the Severn River to the north, Black Walnut Creek to the south and Bay Ridge Road to the west
PROPERTIES SOLD IN PAST 12 MONTHS: 16, ranging in price from $185,000 to $650,000
PROPERTIES ON THE MARKET: 1
SCHOOLS: Georgetown elementary, Annapolis middle and high schools; also, St. Anne's, St. Martin's, St. Mary's, Annapolis Christian Academy, Indian Creek and Key schools
10 TO 15 MINUTES AWAY: Downtown Annapolis, U.S. Naval Academy, Quiet Waters Park and the new home of Anne Arundel Medical Center