Sherwood Forest dwellers carve out a little paradise

December 20, 1993|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Staff Writer

Eighty years ago, Baltimore investor William F. Cochran designed a summer resort on the banks of the Severn River and called it Sherwood Forest.

Today, a more appropriate name for the 450-acre wooded community might be Shangri-la.

Like the fabled Tibetan paradise, Sherwood Forest is secluded, offers a life of pleasures, and enforces a rigid set of rules designed to protect the community's standard of living.

Most of the houses must be painted dark green; cats are forbidden and dogs must be housed in kennels during the summer months; for sale signs are prohibited and the sound of hammer and saw must not be heard between June 22 and Labor Day.

Sherwood Forest is not for everyone, but the 341 families who live in the cottage-like homes like it that way.

Residents have their own marina, a nine-hole golf course, tennis courts, a community hall with bowling alleys, a community store and post office, a full-day summer program for the kids, and regular community dances.

The community provides for its own security, road maintenance and garbage collection.

For those who grew up in Sherwood Forest, there is no place like it.

Billy Moulden was married with two young children and living in Kansas when he felt the tug to return to the waterfront community.

"I wanted my kids to have the same kind of summers I had," the 38-year-old teacher said.

So he moved his family to Sherwood Forest, where his children swim, boat, fish and explore the woods the way he did as a child.

"Sherwood Forest is the same way it was in all of the important things," he said. "Tradition is meaningful here."

Mr. Moulden is not alone. Many of the children he grew up with also have bought homes and are rearing children in Sherwood.

Mr. Moulden said he appreciates living near families he has known all his life. "You can go to a party and talk with people and there's no ego involved."

Mr. Moulden said it is even hard for him to recall the 10 years he lived outside of Sherwood Forest. "Kansas seems like 1,000 years away."

In some respects, Sherwood Forest is like a time capsule from the 1950s. Parents feel that their children are safe on the streets, neighbors know each other, and residents are willing to give time and money to community projects.

"It's a way of life that has gone by in many parts of America," said Albert Aldo, manager of Sherwood Forest Club Inc., which owns the common grounds.

The neighborhood is like the 1950s in other ways as well. Sherwood Forest cannot be called culturally diverse. Residents are white and most families are either Protestant or Roman Catholic. Many residents are related through blood or marriage.

Despite its upper-middle-class leanings, Sherwood Forest defies easy descriptions. Although some of the people who live there are quite wealthy, community rules forbid the construction of ostentatious houses and the house lots are postage-stamp size.

In the cramped quarters, conversations in one house can easily be heard in a neighboring house if the windows are left open.

And while the dense woods, spectacular views and nearby rivers offer respite from the world, no one comes to Sherwood Forest to be left alone. There are too many parties, clubs and committee meetings to attend.

One of the most important institutions is a summer day camp for children. Activities include swimming, boating, archery, crafts and a nature program, which Mr. Moulden oversees.

Many of the community's quirky rules also hearken back to the earlier era. The prohibition against dogs and construction in the summer months originally was designed to ensure quiet for the vacationers.

Living in Sherwood Forest is not cheap. Houses range from $100,000 for a small cottage to $600,000 for a new home with a water view. In addition to the housing costs, residents must pay a $5,000 initiation fee, special county taxes that add about $1,200 to their property tax bill, and a yearly maintenance fee of $50 for each room in a house.

The marina, swimming pool and day camp cost extra.

Despite the costs, it is hard to find a home there. The best houses are snatched up by relatives or friends of residents. In some cases, residents themselves move up to larger houses with better views.

"Anything priced at the market price doesn't last," Mr. Aldo said.

Homebuyers must submit an application and name sponsors before they can join the Sherwood Forest Club, a requirement of all homeowners. But residents note that the application process has become only a formality in recent years and doesn't actually screen potential buyers.

Still, some long-time residents worry that Sherwood Forest is in danger of losing its working-class roots and becoming a country club.

Margaret Pfautz, 91, has lived in Sherwood Forest longer than anyone. Her father was one of the original developers of the project. She was 11 when the family moved into one of the first homes in 1913. "I loved it," she said.

Although wealthy families lived in Sherwood Forest from the beginning, the community was mainly for working-class people, she recalled. Her father was a minister and other early homebuyers included a group of nurses.

"Mr. Cochran would roll over in his grave if he saw it today," she said.

She is amazed that residents are paying $400,000 for cottages and tearing them down to build even more grand houses.

"There isn't the same community feeling," she said sadly.

While the community may be slowly changing to a more elite neighborhood, some things cannot be changed, like the spectacular view of the Severn River from Mrs. Pfautz's home. "When you walk down those steps and see the view, you can't have a bad thought," she said.

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