Multitudes discover a bucolic, costly gem At $300,000 and up, homes in Davidsonville are in demand

Neighborhood profile: Davidsonville

March 29, 1998|By Melinda Rice | Melinda Rice,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Davidsonville is a deceptively sleepy-looking hamlet.

It radiates from a cluster of buildings -- churches, a garden center, the post office, a realty office -- at the intersection of Maryland Routes 424 and 214 in south-central Anne Arundel County. Residents call that intersection "The Corner."

Drive in any direction from The Corner, and the appearance of an organized community quickly gives way to scattered homes and farmland.

Davidsonville is a thriving, growing community that attracts visitors from hundreds of miles away, but you have to be observant -- or ask the residents -- to discover that.

What appears to be a bucolic farming community is rapidly changing into a bedroom community of people who can afford homes whose average price last year -- according to the Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. -- was $343,800. Do not look for townhouses or apartments -- they are unknown in Davidsonville.

"It's always been in a state of change -- since its very beginning," said Gail Enright, secretary of the Davidsonville Area Civic Association. "Change is something that hasn't changed in Davidsonville."

Europeans colonists first knew the area that would become Davidsonville as All Hallows Parish, which was established in 1692 by the Episcopal Church. The building that now serves as All Hallows' Episcopal Church was not constructed until 1865.

Some early settlers called the area West River, and others thought of it as part of Rutland. The name "Davidsonville" came into use in 1835 after Thomas Davidson, who lived in a house on the northeast side of The Corner, gave land to the United Methodist Church.

Davidsonville remained a community of tobacco farms and dairies for the next 130 years. In the 1960s, the first subdivision, River West, made its appearance. Now fewer than 300 Davidsonville residents make their living off the land. The rest commute.

"It used to be there was peace and quiet here; there were very few cars, very few houses," said Garland Zang, 52, whose family has owned Idlewilde Farm in Davidsonville for three generations.

His grandfather raised dairy cattle, corn and tobacco on 150 acres off Route 424. In 1974, Garland and his sister, Linda, converted Idlewilde into a boarding and training facility for horses. Linda also breeds and imports horses.

Idlewilde boards 40 horses, in addition to its own stock, and gives about 75 lessons in dressage each week. It is one of at least three such facilities in Davidsonville, and they draw people from Virginia, Delaware and all over Maryland.

Visitors are also enticed by Homestead Gardens, a 40-acre nursery and llama ranch, and the National Endangered Wild Animal Research & Conservation Center Petting Farm. The latter was founded by Steve and Debbie Collison in 1990.

"They have such good selection and such good help that I'd come here if it was even farther away," said Martha Johnson, who recently drove to Homestead Gardens from her home in Richmond, Va. She makes the trip at least four times a year.

Some longtime residents are not happy about what they view as the ills of urban life descending on Davidsonville.

"It's too crowded now -- too many people living here, too many on the roads," said Garland Zang. He would prefer that the area remain as it was when he was a child and could ride his bicycle all day without seeing a car.

What longtime residents see as suburban sprawl, new residents view as charming country living.

"People think they're moving to the country -- it used to really be country," said Enright, who grew up in Annapolis but spent her summers with her grandparents in Davidsonville and moved to their home as an adult in 1966. "Now it's a bedroom community," Enright said.

The rural feel of the area is what attracts most of the new residents, said Wanda King, a Davidsonville resident for 38 years who works for Davidsonville Realty.

It is certainly what drew Douglas and Janet Fierberg to Davidsonville from Washington.

"We needed to get out of the District," said Janet. They lived in a renovated townhouse in the District's Shaw neighborhood.

Crime was on the rise, and doctors determined that their daughter, Audrey, had significant amounts of lead -- from the home's old plumbing -- in her blood.

"In Montgomery County, you didn't get that much for your money and Prince George's County seemed to have a lot of the same problems as the District," said Janet. "So we came here."

The Fierbergs, both lawyers, had hoped to buy an old farmhouse and renovate it, but could not find one in their price range.

"The old farmhouses are on old farms, sitting in the middle of 100 acres, and that's more than we wanted," Janet said.

Even if they had wanted a farm, their pickings would have been slim, said King, the Realtor.

"There aren't too many on the market," she said. "The farmers -- most of them that I know -- don't want to sell for any amount of money."

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