Generations cherish Rodgers Forge living

NEIGHBORHOOD PROFILE

Brick townhouses and friendly people

April 16, 2000|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When Jean Duvall and her family moved to Rodgers Forge on Halloween in 1970, she never thought they would stay more than a year or so.

Thirty years later, not only are she and her husband still in the same house, but she can't imagine leaving.

"When we drove through the neighborhood for the first time, it was in the summer and the trees and flowers were blooming. And I said, `That neighborhood looks like it fits like an old shoe.' I'll never forget saying that," Duvall said.

They stayed because of the conveniences the neighborhood offered, the friendliness of its residents and, maybe most of all, Duvall said, because it was a great place to raise her three children.

"When we moved here, most of us were in our 20s. In fact, in my block alone, we had 32 children under second grade," she said. "And now many of those children that were in my sandbox playing all those years ago have stayed on. We have third and fourth generations in this neighborhood."

One of those multigenerational residents is Norman Swoboda, who is raising his family in the same house he grew up in.

"I know a lot of people from having grown up here. I like the houses, the brick construction, hardwood floors and plaster walls. There are a lot of things here you wouldn't get with a new house," said Swoboda, who was the neighborhood paperboy when he was young.

What's the secret to a neighborhood remaining popular and stable for so long?

The residents say it's any number of things -- the family atmosphere, the local schools, the well-built homes, the convenient location and the sense that you belong to a true neighborhood.

Just off York Road south of Towson University, Rodgers Forge includes brick townhouses, a few single-family homes, a handful of schools and a very popular tot lot. The community is bordered by the university to the north, York Road to the east, Bellona Avenue to the west and the Pinehurst community to the south.

The name Rodgers Forge was given to the area by an Irish blacksmith who built his shop there in the early 1800s to service the growing trade from travelers along York Road and the nearby estates. The business was passed down through four generations of Rodgers. The original shop was replaced in 1865, and in the late 1940s it was torn down and replaced by a gas station.

Construction of the original Rodgers Forge subdivision began in 1923 on a 200-acre estate along the west side of York Road. Local developer James Keelty Sr. constructed about 500 homes. After World War II his son, James, built the remaining rows of homes that make up today's community of more than 1,700 houses.

The area has two public schools, Rodgers Forge Elementary and Dumbarton Middle. It also has the Baltimore Actors' Theatre and Conservatory, which includes Maryland's only accredited college preparatory school of the arts for grades one through 12. The organization is housed in a mansion built by Robert A. Taylor in 1853.

The homes in Rodgers Forge are almost all three-level, brick townhouses with three to five bedrooms. In the past two years of Baltimore's housing boom, prices in the popular neighborhood have escalated -- many homes sell within days of being listed. The time when a townhouse could be bought for under $100,000 seems to be over. Prices now start in the low $100,000s and have gone as high as $170,000.

"In many older areas of Baltimore, people go in and renovate the homes. You don't have to renovate in Rodgers Forge because the homes are so well-built and well-cared for. It has always been an area where people want to be," said Ashley Richardson, with the Towson South office of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn ERA.

"People who live there will say it's a fantastic place to raise kids because of the sense of community. There are a lot of young families in there and a lot of young kids," Richardson added.

Tom and Tracy Thompson came to Rodgers Forge two years ago.

"We were looking here because of the schools and because we knew we didn't want a detached home. We knew we weren't ready for that because we both worked and we didn't want a place with a big yard," Tracy Thompson said. "There are lots of kids and we wanted to be within walking distance to the schools. We also like the location. I work on the east side of the Beltway and Tom works on the west side. So this was right in the middle."

Melissa Tillman, a Rodgers Forge resident and an agent at the Towson South office of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn ERA, said she never doubted her desire to own a home in Rodgers Forge.

"I knew we wanted to be here based on the whole community appeal. We wanted a great, old-fashioned Americana-type neighborhood and that's Rodgers Forge," said Tillman, who moved to the neighborhood with her husband and their 9-year-old daughter.

The multigenerational makeup of the community is a great atmosphere in which to raise kids, Tillman said.

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