In the notoriously mobile Washington region, it always surprises people to meet a native. That makes the Old Farm area of North Bethesda a jaw-dropper.
There are plenty of people who grew up in the neighborhood and moved back as adults. Some even live in their parents' former homes.
"I've lived about two-thirds of my life within one square mile," Bruce Werber said.
He is not complaining. Werber, 41, lived in Old Farm from 1965 through 1982. He moved out to Gaithersburg, then returned in 1989. Now he is about half a mile from his parents' home.
"I really enjoyed growing up there," playing outside all day with the 20 or so neighborhood children who were about his age, Werber said. He remembered games of "knee football," where all the older children played on their knees while the little children were on their feet. With so many children, the neighborhood fielded its own sports leagues. Werber said he moved back because of that good experience with neighbors and the school, plus Old Farm's location near Interstate 270, two miles from his job working with his father in insurance.
The 1,000 homes at Old Farm and its three smaller related neighborhoods--Tilden Woods, Walnut Woods and Hickory Woods--were built from 1961 to 1981. Those were prime years for neighborhoods where everyone had lots of children. Today, the colonials, split-levels, ramblers and bi-levels typically sell for $304,000 to $381,000.
All four neighborhoods blend together, sandwiched between Montrose Road, I-270, Rockville Pike and Parkedge Drive. Growing up and living in one wasn't, and isn't, much different than growing up and living in another.
Walnut Woods residents Ransom Ratcliff and Myles Taylor share childhood memories much like Werber's. They both live in what were their family homes, across the street from each other.
Taylor used to baby-sit him, recalled Ratcliff, now an architect and head of the Walnut Woods Neighborhood Association. Ratcliff's family lived in Old Farm for a few years, moved away and came back to the neighborhood in 1974. He moved out as a young adult, then back home in 1993 to help care for his ailing father. His mother and his wife's parents now live less than 10 minutes away.
"I love this house," he said. "I put a lot of work into it as a kid."
There was plenty of time, too, for building forts and hiking in the woods, where some trees are more than 250 years old, and ice skating on the pond across Montrose Road, where the North Farms subdivision is now.
Taylor's family moved into their home in 1966, when he was in fourth grade. "Growing up here was a great experience," he said, adding that there were scads of children "and we pretty much ran in packs."
As an adult, Taylor lived in Bethesda and Olney. After he and his wife had two children and began looking for a place with more space, they didn't target his old neighborhood. Somehow, though, they kept coming back.
After Taylor and his wife put in a bid on a house not far from his old home, Taylor's parents approached him. If he really wanted to live in the neighborhood, they suggested, why not buy their house? They were ready to move to smaller quarters anyhow. And so Taylor moved home.
"It's interesting watching our children, who are the ages my brother and I were when we moved in, play on our old field," he said. "I hope they have the same kind of good memories I do."
Tim Mertz, Taylor's friend since fourth grade, lives just blocks away. About the time Taylor was house-hunting, Mertz and his wife were planning an addition to their Bethesda home. However, they also looked around at other houses, fell in love on sight with a house in his old neighborhood and bought it.
The house backs on Farmland Elementary School, which children from all four neighborhoods attend. Mertz appreciates both the house itself, with a master bedroom suite and the family room by the kitchen, and the location near the school's athletic fields, I-270 and the White Flint Metro station.
Years ago, Mertz recalled, there was always a pickup game after school, always a lot of activity as children rode bikes and played on ball fields, in the parkland, in the creek. "There were thousands of kids."
Today, the neighborhood is more than just children. The parents of all those baby boomers have aged, too, but many have remained. New people of all ages have moved in over the past 30 or more years. Residents, though, still talk about a sense of community.
Connie Jacobson, president of the Old Farm Civic Association, gave credit to the school and two community pools for the strong cohesiveness and neighborly awareness she sees. "They make for continuous camaraderie year-round," she said.
No neighborhood is without at least one problem. The big worry for Old Farm, Tilden Woods, Walnut Woods and Hickory Woods is the proposed Montrose Parkway. The divided six-lane road's route would require the destruction of four homes, surround two others with traffic and run behind, around or in front of about 70 others, said Karen Kuker-Kihl, who is on the Tilden Woods Civic Association board and the steering committee of the Montrose Parkway Alternatives Coalition. The parkway also would be routed through woods.
Neighborhood residents have been fighting the proposal since it was made in 1992, and before that they fought its predecessor, the Rockville Facility link to the proposed Inter-County Connector. The parkway remains under discussion.
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WHERE WE LIVE
BOUNDARIES: Montrose Road to the north, Tuckerman Lane to the south, Interstate 270 to the west and Parkedge Drive and Tilden Woods Park to the east.
HOME MARKET: Old Farm has about 560 houses, selling for an average of $381,453 over the past year; Tilden Woods has about 260, selling for an average of $304,531; Walnut Woods and Hickory Woods have about 200, selling for an average of $329,427.
SCHOOLS: Farmland Elementary, Tilden Middle and Walter Johnson High.
WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE: Farmland Elementary School, Faith Methodist Church, B'nai Israel Congregation, St. Elizabeth Catholic Church, Congressional Shopping Center.
WITHIN FIVE MINUTES BY CAR: White Flint Mall, Rockville Pike shopping district, I-270, the Capital Beltway, White Flint and Twinbrook Metro stations.