There's growing going on once again in the Orchards.
Not fruit. That hasn't grown here since the 1800s. But children.
Young families have moved into this North Baltimore community along Charles Street, and its yards and sidewalks are full of kids. And that's the healthiest sign a neighborhood can have, according to its residents.
"There were very few children when I moved here 37 years ago," remembered Walter Hale. "But now there are many, many children, and that's a plus."
Young people decide to raise their families in the Orchards because of its handsome brick Colonial homes, its quiet tree-lined streets, but most of all, because of its location. The commute to downtown and the Beltway is quick and the neighborhood sits in the midst of about a half-dozen private schools. Their kids can walk to school from kindergarten through the 12th grade.
The Orchards is a kind of a hidden neighborhood, not as well known as other nearby affluent sections, but it rivals them in architectural quality and natural beauty. "We're comparable to Roland Park, Guilford and Homeland," said Ann Wetzler, president of the Orchards Association.
Big homes aren't required for a better neighborhood. Most of the 126 houses in the Orchards have only three bedrooms and two baths, but they sell for more than $300,000 when they come on the market. When they do, they go quickly. The average time spent on the market in the past year was only 17 days.
Sean O'Conor of the Jacksonville office of O'Conor Piper & Flynn ERA is listing a three-bedroom brick Colonial with a slate roof for $325,000. "Three or four years ago, people fled the city to places like Timonium and Cockeysville, but some have come back to live in the city," O'Conor said. "People discovered the houses in the Orchards were undervalued."
The popularity of the Orchards is part of the trend of young professional couples buying homes in North Baltimore, rather than the surrounding counties, so they can be closer to work and the city's cultural amenities.
"There's shopping, but it's not on top of you," said Hale. Residents go to the Rotunda, Mount Washington Mill and stores along York Road.
One big advantage the Orchards has is that there's no through traffic. The community is buffered by the Bryn Mawr School on the west and the Elkridge Hunt Club on the north. "The only traffic problem we really have is the parents that cut through in the morning to get to Bryn Mawr," said Wetzler.
Regardless, the neighborhood has a great relationship with the school, according to Wetzler. "They let us use their fields for recreation and also for our annual picnic," she said.
The Orchards is named after the early 20th-century estate of Douglas H. Gordon, a Baltimore financier and owner of the Baltimore News, who had named it after the orchards belonging to an earlier 19th-century owner, David Wilson.
Gordon purchased about 125 acres in 1900 and built a summer home. In 1921, three years after his death, his wife, Elizabeth, through a trust her husband had created, leased part of the land to the Elkridge Hunt Club for a term of 99 years.
In 1928, she sold a 24-acre parcel along with the home to Bryn Mawr School, which then moved there from its original building at Cathedral and Preston streets, where the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall now stands.
Mrs. Gordon sold the rest of the land to a development company but got it back when she foreclosed on their mortgage in 1933. Then in 1936, she selected the Roland Park Co. to act as her agent in selling the remaining lots and maintaining the subdivision.
The same high standards of design the company had set in Homeland, Guilford and Roland Park were put in place for the Orchards. But it was specifically the covenants, restrictions on property use the Roland Park Co. had pioneered in 1893, that guaranteed the quality of the neighborhood that exists to this day.
"There still is an architectural committee that monitors any changes," said Hale, who is a member of the panel. "Residents have to submit plans and get permission to alter anything, even a front door color or a fence."
The houses that were built under the aegis of the Roland Park Co. from 1936 to 1951 are beautifully proportioned and detailed, a tradition Hale and his neighbors want to continue.
But the trees here are even more impressive than the houses. "The Orchards has the largest stand of elms in the city," said Hale. But their trees aren't immune to the Dutch elm disease that has ravaged trees across the country. "The bulk of our dues goes for the treatment of the trees, but it seems like a losing battle," said Wetzler, sadly.
The success of the Orchards shows that traditional Baltimore neighborhoods can draw people back into the city with the right mix of location, safety and housing.
ZIP code: 21210
Commute to downtown Baltimore: 10 minutes
Public schools: Roland Park Elementary, Roland Park Middle, Northwestern High
Shopping: The Rotunda, Mount Washington Mill, Eddie's of Roland Park
Homes on market: 2
Average listing price: $352,194*
Average sale price: $352,000*
Average days on market: 17
Sale price as percentage of listing price: 99.94%*Based on 9 sales in the past 12 months, compiled by Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.