Donnie Warthen remembers when city folks took the bus from downtown Baltimore, got off at Wilkens Avenue and, with fishing poles in hand, walked through Violetville to fish in the pond near his house.
Warthen, 58, and his brother, Bob, 54, fished and caught frogs in the pond in the summer and skated on it when it froze in the winter. They hiked and hunted in the surrounding woods, and bought fresh vegetables or chickens at a Violetville farm.
The pond disappeared in the 1960s when Samuel Pistorio bought the parcel of land south of Benson Avenue and transformed it into a business park. The farm gave way to streets of new rowhouses. But the relaxed, informal, country-in-the-city spirit of Violetville lingers on.
You'll find an open, welcoming atmosphere at Judy G's, a carryout restaurant on Haverhill Road where Paul Gill has been creating and delivering buffalo wings, pizzas, sandwiches and desserts -- as well as forthright political views -- to neighbors and city institutions since 1969. You'll find it at Kibby's Restaurant on Wilkens Avenue, where the specials of the day are listed on a chalkboard, the shrimp salad has been rated one of Baltimore's best for years, and employees such as Paula Weckesser stay around long enough to know the regular customers.
You'll find it at the neighborhood churches, where families have been worshiping for generations, and at the ballpark and tennis courts where kids can walk to play ball and still stay within shouting distance of their homes. And you'll find it at the elementary school, where grandparents are active volunteers, assuring the same caring education they themselves received as youngsters at the school two generations ago.
People walk their dogs and ride their bikes on quiet, shady streets and clean ally ways, and neighbors care about one another. It's a classic Baltimore neighborhood where several generations of a family live on the same street.
Named for the violets that used to bloom in profusion on the roadside, Violetville is an enclave of 50-year-old brick rowhouses, shingled bungalows, old Victorians, Dutch Colonials, semidetached Tudors and new construction on the gently sloping streets of Southwest Baltimore. The community is sheltered by busy thoroughfares -- Benson and Wilkens avenues, Haverhill Road, and the St. Agnes Hospital complex on Caton Avenue. Most of the neighborhood is within the city limits; a few streets are in Baltimore County.
It's the kind of neighborhood many people are searching for, and some sensitive suburban developers are trying to emulate, according to Rick Sipes, a Realtor with Long and Foster.
"Young people are looking for neighborhoods that have a sense of community," he said, "And they can find it in Violetville. It's always been a nice area for starting out -- and now a number of young people who grew up in Violetville are coming back to raise their own families." Plus, according to Sipes, the construction of the 50-year-old rowhouses is solid, with the kind of features new buyers covet -- such as hardwood floors, plaster walls, finished basements and brick exteriors.
Another draw for young families is the local elementary school, a 68-year-old, picture-perfect stone and brick structure that is the centerpiece of the community.
School 226 has educated several generations of Violetville residents. With 470 children in grades kindergarten through eighth, and partnerships with St. Agnes Hospital and Towson State University, the youngsters get plenty of attention and nurturing. Principal Joan Wagner says, "There's a spirit, a climate here of community and cooperation. The teachers are glad to be here, and the parents are very interested in what happens. Grandparents are volunteers.
"There's a strong base of support to continue to be proud of the school they attended themselves. There's a system of values here, too -- parents are trying to teach honesty, character and caring."
Paula Weckesser, Kibby's restaurant day manager, went to Violetville Elementary, and now her grandchildren attend the school. "It's a fantastic school," she says, "Because everybody cares."
Hazel and Wallace Hagan moved to Violetville in 1952 when their three-bedroom, end-of-group rowhouse was built. They always have appreciated the quiet streets and slower pace of life of the neighborhood. Their two children, now grown, could walk to school with friends, join Scouts and Little League, play with friends on safe streets, and catch tadpoles in the pond.
Hazel Hagan has always enjoyed the convenience of city living -- she could board the bus on Wilkens Avenue for a day of shopping downtown, or shop at a local grocery. And, convenience to downtown, the Beltway and Interstate 95 is still a plus for residents.