Few and far between are the city neighborhoods capable of convincing visitors that they have stumbled upon a rural retreat. Yet, in Hunting Ridge, winding roads amid hilly terrain, giant oak trees more than 200 years old and ivy-covered stone cottages present a picture of another place in time.
On the western edge of Baltimore, bordered by Leakin Park on the north, Edmondson Avenue on the south and nestled between Swann Avenue and Cooks Lane, Hunting Ridge has been the recipient of numerous, descriptive monikers over the years.
University of Maryland, Baltimore County professor and resident, said that in the 1920s the original developer referred to the neighborhood as "the suburb of beautiful trees." He added that Hunting Ridge "still offers its residents the rare combination of a natural environment in a city location."
Taking its name from a 25,000-acre Colonial land portion that constituted a great area of northwestern Baltimore County, Hunting Ridge initially belonged to John Bailey, the son of George Calvert.
Another landlord was John Tasker, founder of the Baltimore Ironworks Co. In 1850, much of the land now forming the neighborhood was the southern boundary of Crimea, the vast estate of Thomas Winans, which overlooks Leakin Park. Winans made his fortune as an engineer and builder of locomotives for the burgeoning B&O Railroad. Ross Winans, a relative, brought dubious distinction to Crimea. He was a Confederate sympathizer during the Civil War, and his hastily erected fortifications failed to stave off Union attacks and resulted in his capture and imprisonment in Fort McHenry.
Toward the end of the 19th century, a portion of the Crimea fell into the hands of a well-known West Side horticulturist, John Cook, famous for developing a hybrid tea rose on his vast acreage.
Today, along quiet streets such as Briarclift, which overlooks the park, sits a wide variety of housing styles, the earliest dating from the 1920s. White-framed Colonials, brick Cape Cods and stone Tudors rest on manicured lawns alongside ranchers and stucco bungalows.
Large, airy rowhouses were added in the 1940s and 1950s, enhancing this unique mix of age and genre. Occasionally, a "new home" or two can be found, the last Hunting Ridge residence having been completed in the 1990s.
Gordon Sonney, an agent with the Catonsville office of Long & Foster Real Estate Inc., refers to the houses as "seasoned homes" and quite attractive to buyers looking for a more established area. The average price for a home here is $107,000. A four-bedroom, detached Colonial, circa 1926, with cedar siding and many updates has an asking price of $147,500. A semidetached Victorian, built in 1930, will run in the vicinity of $90,000.
"There is good value [here] for your dollar," Sonney said. "The community is so unique and well laid out."
It is also proud of its racial, ethnic and religious diversity.
The Rev. David Michel and his wife, Jeannine, have been residents for 26 years and are active in what he considers a "strong 270-mem- ber neighborhood association."
"We are called Hunting Ridge Community Assembly," Michel said, with an emphasis on assembly. He said since its establishment in 1927, the name "assembly" has been a member preference and meant to connote the coming together of residents, as if to a town meeting.
The 25-member board, on which Jeannine holds office, meets once a month. Other committees include education, events, public relations (responsible for the regular publication of a newsletter) and crime prevention, which coordinates a Citizens on Patrol program.
"We all take one two-hour shift a month, although I am amazed at how little crime there is," Michel says.
As members of a close community, residents gather for Christmas caroling, summer cookouts and town meetings. They also selflessly and steadfastly prepare meals for homeless shelters, while serving on various task forces and volunteering at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School.
Reverend Michel, however, readily admits to a love-hate relationship with the mature trees. Neighbors often refer to their community as "the shady side of town." While the trees are gorgeous, the plethora of autumn leaves can be overwhelming.
Still, the residents will readily agree that Hunting Ridge is an ideal neighborhood whose major components are its seclusion, its blend of older residents and young families and its collective concern for each homeowner.
Michel told the story of his pending retirement a few years back: "We thought we might want to move away," he begins, "and we asked ourselves, `Where are we really happy?'" The answer came soon enough.
"Right here. This is where we want to be."
Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 10 minutes
Public schools: Thomas Jefferson Elementary; West Baltimore Middle; Southwestern High, Edmondson-Westside High
Shopping: Edmondson Village, Security Square Mall, Westview Mall
ZIP code: 21229