Behind Veterans’ Memorial Park, modern townhouses overlook the Chesapeake Bay. (Audrey Hoffer/FTWP)

Charlotte Allison, a painter, and her husband, Vince Cutcher, retired from the Air Force, were drawn to Chesapeake Beach, Md., in 1996.

They loved that it was small, population 2,000. It was an eclectic scene with artists, fishermen, freethinkers — people not wrapped up in appearances, she said.

“There was something artistic about the Beach,” Allison said. “I’d come here and walk around and think, ‘This is such a cool town. I want to be part of the community.’ ”

“You could strike up a conversation with just about anyone, you could walk anywhere, it was all very laid-back,” she recalled.

Allison and Cutcher liked it so much they bought a house there.

(The Washington Post)

Today they’re in their 40s and they still relish the town’s quirkiness and down-to-earth people but say it has evolved. People drive to stores and walk around with digital devices in hand. New people moving in aren’t fishermen. Many have high incomes.

And the town is spreading. “It’s no longer small,” said Allison. The population is about 5,800. “There’s a magic number when it starts to change, maybe around 3,000. You can sense it. You don’t know everyone. People still walk over to introduce themselves and there’s still a neighborly feel, but it’s not as social.”

Community involvement: People love living here and “cooperate as a community,” said James L. Parent, town administrator for four years and resident for 32. “If someone is in need, everyone wants to help.”

Allison agreed and said after hurricanes some people came around asking, “What can we do?” and others saying, “Let’s meet at the beach and we’ll clean it up.”

“When a call goes out for volunteers for the spring beach cleanup or for our oyster program — we have 65 oyster cages on the trail — and we announce that we’re going to take the oysters out and lay them on the reef, the community comes and does the work. Sometimes more people than we know what to do with show up,” Parent said.

The crime rate is low, and police representatives attend council meetings to keep town officials informed. Once people complained about car break-ins and stolen property, but after investigating, police explained that they weren’t break-ins — people had left their cars unlocked. Scoundrels just opened the doors and took things. “We told people, ‘Lock your cars,’ ” Parent said.

Quiet streets: The residential streets are quiet and leafy; you may even see a rabbit hopping across the road. Houses are an eclectic mix of nicely spaced one- and two-story bungalows and cottage-style structures.

A few McMansions with multiple balconies mar the aesthetic, Allison and Cutcher say, hoping not too many more will come in.

Many people tend gardens. “If I walked down the street and admired someone’s plants they’d say, ‘Oh, take one,’ ” Allison said.

Over the years she cultivated a rose garden with more than 500 varieties, black gladiolus, and various fruit trees — pear, apple, plum, peach and nectarine. When a neighboring property went on the market, the seller promoted a view of the Allison-Cutcher garden as a selling point.

Bayside Road is the main street through town along the bay. On the way are Traders Seafood Steak and Ale, with a pink sign in the shape of a crab; Tyler’s Tackle Shop and Crab House; a water park; and a railway museum.

Roland’s, a well-stocked, family-owned supermarket famous for its fried chicken and homemade potato salad, dominates Chesapeake Station Shopping Center, “the little mall with everything you need,” said Dee Principe.

At Chesapeake Beach Resort and Spa, you can sit in the dining room overlooking the waterfront patio and watch wedding ceremonies every weekend.

Picturesque scenes: Veterans Memorial Park in the town center epitomizes the scene here. The beautifully designed park — benches, grass and vista — faces the wide bay, which stretches to the horizon as if it were the Atlantic Ocean. On a recent Saturday morning, a brisk wind nipped the water and made little whitecaps. An osprey nest was visible atop the chimney of an adjacent townhome. “When I look out my window and see people in this park, it looks like they’re having a spiritual moment,” said Principe who lives in an adjacent waterfront townhouse.

The Chesapeake Beach Water Park is popular, and two boardwalks over wetland and along the bay are favorites among locals, tourists, dogs and wildlife.

Piers, docks and marinas are carefully maintained and offer picturesque scenes of pleasure craft and creatively named charter fishing boats — Reel Attitude, Hooked Up II, Bay Hog, Miss Demeanor.

Neptune’s Seafood Pub just footsteps over the Chesapeake Beach border into North Beach, offers spicy, salty waffle fries that alone are worth a visit.

School: Beach Elementary.

Living there: Chesapeake Beach, roughly 2.8 square miles, sits on the western shore of Chesapeake Bay in Calvert County. It is bordered by First Street to the north, the bay to the east, Chesapeake Avenue to the south and St. Andrews drive to the west.

Housing stock includes small cottages with one bedroom, single families — the most common units for sale — condominium apartments, townhouses and a few larger homes. On the market now, said Jeff Krahling with A & O Realty Service, are 31 single-family houses ranging from $120,000 to $625,000; seven townhomes from $230,000 to $399,000; and nine condos from $255,000 to $935,000. Twenty-seven homes are under contract ranging from $110,000 to $520,000. Over the past year, 125 houses sold for $43,000 to $600,000.

The population is growing, but a love of water is still the common tie. Said Allison: “Someone who goes crabbing on a rowboat and someone with a 40-foot yacht” share a passion for the community.

Audrey Hoffer is a freelance writer.