Location: Carroll County
Average sales price: $237,000 in ZIP code 21102 (January through June)
Notable features: Rolling farmland, cows, horses and elbow room. You'll find homes with generous yards, new single-family houses for less than you'd spend in much of the Baltimore region and an old-town Main Street.
Manchester is almost 40 miles from downtown Baltimore, and its ZIP code stretches to the Pennsylvania line. It's not a commute for the faint of heart, but just the thing if you want a place removed from the urban bustle, where working farms and weathered barns dot the landscape. There's more sky here, or at least it seems that way without big buildings jostling for your attention.
Despite suburban creep, Carroll County is still more rural than the rest of the metro area. It had 142,000 acres of farmland in 2007, according to the most recent Census of Agriculture, and that's more than all but two other counties in Maryland: Frederick and Queen Anne's.
But Manchester is just north of a shopping center with a Walmart, so - for better or for worse - it has easy access to some suburban conveniences. Route 30 (which takes you north to Hanover, Pa., or south to Reisterstown) and Route 27 (which heads toward Westminster) meet in town.
If you're a parent who prefers brand-new schools, take note: Manchester Valley High School opened in August - so new, it has no 12th-graders - and the town's Ebb Valley Elementary School opened last fall.
About 3,500 people live in the incorporated part of Manchester, surrounded by the housing developments and farms of the Manchester ZIP code. It traces its history back to 1765, when a settler named the area after his hometown - the English city.
Steven Miller, Manchester's town administrator, has lived there all his life and calls it "a typical small town." Residents will sometimes bar traffic on their street to throw a block party, he said.
It's a bedroom community, with most residents commuting out to Baltimore, Frederick and other points. That has definite downsides - rush-hour traffic is a problem. Pennsylvania commuters join locals in the drive south. The town is trying to get a bypass built, but Miller said he doesn't expect one soon in this climate of tight budgets.
"From 7 to 9 in the morning, and from 4 to 6 in the evening, getting through Manchester is a bear," Miller said. "Off hours, you can pretty much go anywhere you want to and not get held up by traffic at all."
Why do people move in, commute be darned? Miller says the draw for new residents is the rural setting and less expensive homes.
"It's their own little piece of peace and quiet," he said.
About this series
With help from readers, The Baltimore Sun's Real Estate Wonk blog selected 10 nice, affordable and off-the-radar places as "hidden-gem neighborhoods." This is one of the 10.