When Karen Berends was a youngster growing up in Hawthorne, she never thought that she would one day raise her child in the same house she was raised in.
But fate played out and she couldn't be happier.
"The opportunity came for me to move in, and I thought I would rent for a while," Berends said, recalling that she really didn't think she would buy the home she grew up in. "It just worked out that my mom was going to sell and I was looking for a house," said Berends. "It's just me and my son, so it's plenty of room for the two of us. It's perfect."
One of the benefits of living in the neighborhood where you grew up is you already know your neighbors.
"I enjoy my neighbors more than anything," she said. "It's the same people I grew up with."
It's not all that uncommon to find multiple generations of families living in Hawthorne, a waterfront community in the Middle River area of eastern Baltimore County.
"A lot of kids that grew up in Hawthorne buy houses in Hawthorne. So it's like some of your Highlandtown neighborhoods, where the kids move back," said Dottie Nicely, an agent in the Rosedale office of Long and Foster Real Estate Inc., who first arrived in Hawthorne at age 2. "I'm always selling to kids that grew up here."
The area originally consisted of summer waterfront cottages that have been transformed into year-round homes. Historically, Hawthorne referred to a large neighborhood of brick townhouses - built in the 1950s - that filled in much of the peninsula between the original waterfront cottages. The streets in old Hawthorne all use "thorn" in their names, such as Redthorn, Vailthorn and Sunnythorn roads. Later, another group of townhouses, called Kingston Park, was built farther down the peninsula.
"The brick townhouses of Hawthorne were very, very well-built," Nicely said. "They are some of the best-built houses in the area."
The average townhouse in the community, which usually consists of three bedrooms, 1 1/2 bathrooms and a finished basement, sells for $77,000. A typical end-of-group unit will go in the $80,000 range, while an inside unit will sell in the $70,000 range. Renovated waterfront homes in Hawthorne fetch well above $200,000.
The attraction to the area, said Nicely, are conveniences such as a community grocery store and elementary school, both within walking distance. And the water. Surrounded by Middle River, Cow Pens Creek and Dark Head Creek, the area offers an easy shot to the Chesapeake Bay by boat.
"Within a 5-mile radius we probably have 20 marinas and the whole development is surrounded by water," said Nicely.
And, there are even a few waterfront townhouses that sell in the $125,000 range. The area is also a stepping stone for first-time buyers, said William and Geri Venzke, who bought in Hawthorne three years ago.
"This was a good investment for a first house," said Geri Venzke, a stay-at-home mother with five children. "It's small for us, but it's our foot in the door. ... Hawthorne is an excellent idea for anyone just starting out."
First-time buyers John and Tonya Bracken, who found a home in Hawthorne last year, thought so too. "We have a park in the back of our house with a basketball court, tennis court and little marina," said Tonya Bracken. "My [two] boys have some fishing equipment and crabbing pots, and we even found a little turtle back there."
The peninsula configuration of the neighborhood leads to a closeness that other neighborhoods don't always enjoy, said Bracken, adding, "It's a big melting pot."
As do many older neighborhoods, Hawthorne has had its share of problems. Many of the neighborhood amenities need updating, and it's not unusual to have several homes rented out by absentee landlords.
But the community association, which includes residents who live in the single-family homes across Eastern Boulevard from the peninsula, is trying to address the problems.
Baltimore County government is also lending help.
The Riverdale Village apartments, only a short distance from Hawthorne, were razed recently and a community of single-family houses and a community park will replace the old apartments.
Homes in Hawthorne qualify for two county-sponsored programs that encourage home ownership. The Settlement Expense Loan Program allows the county to lend up to $5,000 to income-eligible purchasers to assist with closing costs.
And then there is the Incentive Purchase Program, a county program administered through the Eastern Baltimore Chamber of Commerce and available to designated communities. IPP funding gives borrowers a $3,000 loan to go toward down payment or closing costs.
If the borrower stays in the home for five years, the loan converts to a grant.
John Horne, president of the Hawthorne Community Association, said membership over the years had dwindled to just seven, but is now up to 50. "We're getting more and more young families coming in and, with the redevelopment of Riverdale, that will only help us out," said Horne, a six-year resident of Hawthorne.