Stately houses in a stable setting

insider's guide to old catonsville

November 02, 2008|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,Special to The Baltimore Sun

Within the greater Catonsville community is the smaller neighborhood of Old Catonsville, a designated national historic district with stately houses and tree-lined streets.

Bounded by Frederick Road, Edmondson Avenue, Melvin Avenue and Smithwood Avenue, the historic district is almost entirely residential, consisting of about 300 houses.

"It has that Norman Rockwell feel," said K. Kirby Spencer, president of the Old Catonsville Neighborhood Association. "It's just a nice location. It's convenient and has a sense of family and community."

She moved to the area 19 years ago, settling into a Victorian house that dates to 1898.

"There's the unique charm of the different architecture," said Spencer, who is a real estate agent with the Catonsville office of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage. "We tend to hold onto these homes. They don't come on the market often."

While some of the houses had their start as summer getaways for wealthy city dwellers of the early-to-mid-1800s, the area developed primarily as a commuter community in the late 1800s and early 1900s, after the electric streetcar began regular service between Catonsville and Baltimore City.

Both sides of Frederick Road were developed in 1810 by Richard Caton, son-in-law of Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

The houses on the north side became known as Old Catonsville.

"Before the trolley lines, there were some huge houses where people would come and stay for the summer," said David Wasmund, a member of the board of the Catonsville Historical Society and an Old Catonsville resident. "But this neighborhood could really be called a commuter suburb, one of the earliest."

Residents say it offers beautiful historic houses within walking distance of the many attractions along Frederick Road. It's also an easy commute to Baltimore and has easy access to Washington.

Larry Wilt, a resident since 1993, said he enjoys the look and feel of the distinctive houses and the large yards that are great for gardening.

"It's a stable, old neighborhood," he says, adding that his house dates to 1893. "Catonsville has a reputation for having old, established, solid neighborhoods and good school systems."

Housing stock : "What people like about [Old Catonsville] is that the homes are not cookie-cutter homes," said George Brookhart of Long & Foster Real Estate in Ellicott City. "They have a lot of charm to them and a lot of style."

Old Catonsville houses include Victorians, Colonials, Greek revivals, farmhouses, American foursquare, bungalows, cottages and newer construction.

There's a wide range of prices for houses, starting at about $300,000 for smaller houses and going up to about $800,000 for the larger, restored properties.

Brookhart said there's a diverse group of residents in Old Catonsville and that the commercial area is a draw.

"You can call it a community, but it's very much like a village with generations that live there," he says. "They move away, but they come back because they love the atmosphere."

Schools: Hillcrest Elementary, Catonsville Middle and Catonsville High serve most residents of Old Catonsville. All three schools surpassed state proficiency levels in reading and math, and all three have met the state's Adequate Yearly Progress mark, a tool used to track academic progress and make accountability decisions. Third graders at Hillcrest scored 93.8 percent proficient in math and 95.5 percent in reading. Seventh graders at Catonsville Middle scored 88.5 percent proficient in math and 89 percent in reading. The high school had a graduation rate of about 87 percent in 2007.

Crime: Although crime numbers went up in the area during 2006 and 2007, those numbers have since dropped because of targeted initiatives, according to Cpl. Michael Hill, a Baltimore County police spokesman.

The most prevalent crime in the area, theft from vehicles, has dropped 27 percent.

"The community organizations are very active in that precinct," Hill said. "They are very well connected to the police station and have constant dialogue with the commander."

Shopping: Frederick Road has managed to keep out big-name chain stores while at the same time offering just about any service residents might need. It is one of 13 commercial revitalization districts in Baltimore County and underwent a major renovation in 2000.

Dining out : Residents have plenty to choose from when it comes to restaurant options, including Indian, seafood, bagels, sandwiches, pizza and Mexican. Traditional stops such as the Candle Light Inn and Jennings Cafe blend in well with newcomers such as the Catonsville Gourmet Market & Fine Foods and El Nayar Mexican Restaurant.

Dining in : Several options are within a short drive, including Giant Food stores on U.S. 40 and Maiden Choice Lane and a Safeway on U.S. 40.

The Catonsville Farmers' Market is a hot spot on Wednesdays from May through November.

Recreation: The community is home to hiking and biking along old trolley, streetcar and railroad lines, including the No. 8 trolley trail, which runs a third of a mile at the neighborhood's western border.

Catonsville Community Park and the Banneker Community Center are also nearby options.

by the numbers

ZIP code: 21228

Homes on the market: 4

Average sales price: $439,400*

Average days on market: 94*

*Information based on sales during the past 12 months, compiled by K. Kirby Spencer of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage and Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.

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