Many of the tree-lined streets that crisscross Bay Ridge, a waterfront neighborhood of 425 houses, have names torn from the pages of American naval history: Farragut, Wainwright, Decatur, Bancroft.
Scanning the glistening Severn River, where sailboats, kayaks and cargo ships hauling goods from coal to new cars skimmed the water, resident Tom Outerbridge, 78, said he bought his house here in 1967 for $30,000. Today, he said, it is appraised at $1.3 million. The cozy dwelling overlooks the water, with a sweeping view that includes the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, about five miles upstream. In the distance lies the Kent Island shoreline.
When he first moved from Silver Spring to this community just southeast of Annapolis, Outerbridge said, “a frontier spirit” permeated the area.
“People here were not wealthy, for the most part, and they did their own work,” he said. “They were do-it-yourselfers. Over time, the Potomac crowd — ‘high rollers’ — discovered the community.” Their arrival changed the culture of the private oasis, wedged serenely between Lake Ogleton to the west and the bay to the east. The well-heeled newcomers can afford to hire landscapers and construction crews to improve their properties, he said.
Many of Bay Ridge’s newer residents are transplants from the Washington area. They’ve traded the roar of inside-the-Beltway life for a more measured, relaxed vibe that opens their vistas to the wind, waves and tide.
People in this pocket-size community pride themselves on giving each other ample space. And although they might fall into an upper-income bracket, there seems to be more competition among neighbors when it comes to sailboat racing than to comparing price tags on properties. Within the wide mix of styles and sizes, not every home is magazine-cover beautiful, but a striking number of them are. The common thread is villagelike living tucked away on a vast, inland arm of the Atlantic described by author H.L. Mencken as “an immense protein factory.”
In their book “Bay Ridge on the Chesapeake,” co-authors Carol Patterson and Jane McWilliams wrote that the community evolved in 1879 as a summer resort. It was showcased by a “large Victorian hotel at Tolly Point,” where the Severn River shakes hands with the bay. “For the next 17 years,” they wrote, “thousands of people came by rail and water to enjoy the ‘Queen Resort of the Chesapeake.’ ”
Today, Bay Ridge is one of the most prestigious waterfront communities in Anne Arundel County, said Rod Irving, an agent with Long & Foster in Annapolis. Property values range from $400,000 to $3 million. The neighborhood, he said, “kind of has a little bit of stuffiness about it.”
One of the unique aspects of Bay Ridge is the absence of commercial enterprises within its borders. Stores such as CVS, Giant Food and 7-Eleven are about two miles away. Downtown Annapolis and City Dock, the state capital’s social and economic hub, are about a 10-minute drive. Many residents travel into town to shop, dine or take in one of the many large-scale events, such as the United States Sailboat Show.
A five-minute walk from the waterfront down Lawrence Avenue takes you past a generous offering of Cape Cods, Victorians and bungalows. Near where the street meets East Lake Drive, resident Caroline Hughes wheeled her Ford Explorer — sporting a blue ‘Bay Ridge, Md.’ bumper sticker — into the driveway of her Nantucket-style house. Cottages in that style are known for their weathered-wood look, framed by sun-dried whites, sea grass greens and cranberry bog reds.
Hughes and her husband, Andrew, paid nearly $1 million for it a few years ago. From the back seat, out popped their son, Tyler, 8, who attends a local Catholic school.
“A lot of people want to live here,” said Hughes, who grew up in rural Baltimore County riding horses.
“It’s unusual for houses to go on the market. This year’s an exception,” she added, referring to the lackluster economy and its impact on the real estate market. Although the house the couple bought doesn’t offer the prized waterscape, she joked that once the trees shed their leaves, “we have a winter view.”
A glance at the October issue of the Bay Ridge Heron, the monthly newsletter published by the community civic association, reflects residents’ taste for life’s finer things. An ad trumpets the advantages of winterizing boats using shrink wrap instead of the more traditional canvas. There’s also a full-page ad for a popular wine cellar, where weekend tastings are offered.
Mother Nature, no respecter of income or education levels, is the great equalizer. As the newsletter reported, winds from Hurricane Irene damaged community-owned woods “in almost all areas.” When the call went out for volunteers with chain saws, a wheelbarrow and a pickup truck, residents rallied.
“The thing about Bay Ridge,” said author and local resident McWilliams, “is that once it identifies a problem, it will come together as a community to solve it. No one gets really involved until there’s a problem.”
Across the street from the Hughes family sits another spacious house, owned by Vinny Perez and his wife, Barb. Vinny, 42, who hails from the San Francisco Bay area, said he catches the Maryland Transportation Administration commuter bus daily to his information technology job at the Library of Congress on Capitol Hill. He boards the bus “around 7, and it gets there between 8 and 8:30. I leave at 5 and I’m home by 6:30.”
Barb, 44, compared life here with her previous neighborhood in Germantown, where “there was nothing to do. It was a total bedroom community. Nobody would even come to visit.”
A sea change occurred after she moved by the water: “I had more friends visit me in the first month I lived in Annapolis than I did in seven years in Germantown!” She added: “It was always my dream to live here. It’s just a very laid-back feel. There are no community bylaws. You can paint your house purple if you want.”
Patterson, co-author of the Bay Ridge book, who moved here in 1962 from Chevy Chase, knew the neighborhood after spending much of her childhood walking its oyster-shell-covered paths before roads went in. She said she looks forward to waking up in the morning and drinking in the sweeping panorama. “Every day is just a little bit different” she said. “In the winter, we have storms, and the whole force of the bay comes rolling in.”
Patterson said she treasures childhood memories of catching tadpoles in Rock Creek Park and her days as a student at Sidwell Friends School in the District. But growing up, she added, “I really felt free coming down here in the summer.” And although she still loves visiting Washington, “I feel like an Annapolitan. My church is here, my friends and neighbors are here, and my children and grandchildren are here.”
Tony Glaros is a freelance writer.