This small public beach is open to all residents of Herald Harbor. (Audrey Hoffer)

Janet Clauson recalls the first time she and her husband, James, came searching for a new house in Herald Harbor, a small peninsula jutting into the Severn River in northeastern Anne Arundel County.

The huge trees, natural landscape, unpretentious homes and casual sensibility were draws — and, of course, “absolutely the water attracted us.”

That was 22 years ago. They had two small children, and their house five miles away was bursting at the seams. They fell in love with the community and bought a house on the water’s edge. Today they are still thrilled with their choice.

There are no through roads or traffic lights and “you don’t drive by,” said Clauson, who is president of the Herald Harbor Citizens’ Association. “This has to be your destination.”

Herald Harbor (Gene Thorpr/The Washington Post)

Scenic terrain: An unincorporated 2.3-square-mile rural community with a 2012 population of 2,600, Herald Harbor is a “quiet little dead-end community,” Clauson said during a slow drive on the winding roads one recent bright morning.

The topography is hilly, with steep dips into ravines. Beautiful water vistas are visible from many locations on the sharply curving roads, especially in winter when trees are bare. The land is heavily forested, with towering oaks, tulip poplars and black walnut trees that provide a thick canopy of shade and a dense understory of shrubs, which affords abundant privacy. Children can readily run in the woods and play hide-and-seek behind their homes. Foxes, raccoons and opossums are common, and ospreys are flying overhead now with branches in their beak for spring nests.

The community’s 975 houses are nestled in these woodlands. It’s an eclectic mix of bungalow cottages and traditional, classic and contemporary structures. There are even two log cabins.

Breezes off the water: Living close to the water’s edge is a big plus, and residents enjoy fresh-air breezes and the tangy smell of the sea all year. Everyone in the community has access to a small, sandy beach with wooden benches, picnic tables and gorgeous views. Boating, fishing, crabbing and swimming are popular.

Many waterfront homes have private docks. Clauson, 60, and her husband live in a traditional brick house. The back patio faces Round Bay, which is a round spot on the Severn River, and offers a spectacular panoramic view. Their two children, now 23 and 25, grew up there. She earned an MBA and worked at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, though she has been a homemaker since the children were little.

Boat ramp access is available for $25 a year to members of the citizens’ association, which in turn costs $10 a year for an individual and $16 a year for a couple. There are 450 members.

Live and let live: There are no rules to tell you what style of window to install or to prohibit you from planting vegetables in a sunny spot on the front lawn. “People respect their neighbors,” said Clauson, but “if you don’t want to live next to house with a purple door, this isn’t the place for you.”

It is a tight and quirky community with a mix of people including CEOs, artists and musicians, firefighters, and teachers. “Internet moguls live side by side with bikers,” said David Abrams, communications director for the county.

The citizens’ association sends members a monthly e-mail newsletter describing community activities, birth and wedding milestones, local burglaries, and petty nuisances.

Herald Harbor is known as a low-crime district in part because access into the community both by road and water is limited. “We’re in the middle of nowhere, and people watch out for each other,” said Clauson.

History: Before the community was founded in 1924, the area was a farm and a peach and apple orchard. In the 1800s, slaves worked the land.

In 1924, three officials of the Washington Herald bought 250 acres to establish a summer beach colony to increase newspaper circulation, according to a 1996 history written by resident Gloria Ryan Spence.

The Herald owners surveyed the land, divided it into plots of one-sixteenth of an acre, and sold them for $25 inland and $200 on the waterfront in exchange for purchase of a weekly newspaper subscription. If buyers also subscribed to the Sunday paper, they could get a second lot. A 1924 black-and-white map depicting these hundreds of plots is on display in the community center.

Cottages sprung up on the little plots, which Washingtonians used for summer sojourns away from the city heat and humidity. Over the years, people stayed longer than a couple of months. They tore down the small cottages and replaced them with more spacious and comfortable living areas. Year-round homes and upgraded, renovated cottages became common.

Many families can trace their roots in Herald Harbor back several generations. “It’s a place people come back to,” said Clauson, referring to frequent mini-
reunions of former residents. And “they move away but still want the newsletter.”

Divided NFL loyalties: “There is no coffee shop here,” said Clauson, but nature is right outside the front door. Roads are narrow, little-trafficked, and good for walking, running or biking. The woods are not marked by trails but are welcoming to casual hikers. And there are always sports teams to cheer. The community is midway between Baltimore and Washington, so “we have as many Ravens as Redskins fans,” she added.

Schools: South Shore Elementary, Old Mill Middle South, Old Mill Middle North and Old Mill High.

Boundaries: Valentine Creek to the north and west, the Severn River to the east, and the Severn River and Little Round Bay to the south.

Living there: Housing styles include cottages, ranchers, Colonials and new construction. Fifteen homes are on the market now, according to Kelly Kindig, a real estate agent with Keller Williams Flagship Realty in Millersville, Md., at an average list price of $250,000 for a three-bedroom with 11 / 2 bathrooms to $950,000 for three-bedroom, 31 / 2-bath house on the water. Four homes listed from $199,000 to $410,000 are under contract and due to settle by the end of May. During the past year, 22 houses sold between $202,000 and $560,000.

Audrey Hoffer is a freelance writer.