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Windsor Hills proud of its diversity

The building designs in Windsor Hills display everything from Victorian-style housing to modern apartment buildings to Japanese-inspired homes.

The architectural variety is just a small part of the neighborhood's identity in West Baltimore. Residents praise Windsor Hills' diversity.

Tanya Hicks, a resident of Windsor Hills for 35 years, said her now-grown son enjoyed knowing all kinds of people in his neighborhood.

"He had all different kinds of friends: poor friends, rich friends," Hicks said.

Hicks, a real estate agent, said buyers are beginning to notice the neighborhood because of its lower prices. Homes have sold for an average of about $68,000 during the past year, and several are being renovated.

Some agents point to the six pending sales that were listed at an average of $89,633 and took an average of 28 days to sell as proof of the area's emergence.

"Windsor Hills traditionally has had modestly priced homes because it is a modest neighborhood," Hicks said.

The community was named for an 18th-century grist mill in Gwynns Falls. Homes were first built in Windsor Hills more than a century ago as a retreat for wealthy Baltimore families who found the trees offered welcome protection from the summer sun.

The availability of public transportation such as horse-drawn streetcars and electric trolleys gave families another reason to situate their estates there at the end of the 19th century.

During the 1960s, the neighborhood resisted block-busting, a practice in which some real estate agents and land speculators undertook to frighten white homeowners into selling their homes by saying that prices were falling. The new owners would then resell the homes at higher prices to black buyers.

Windsor Hills, unlike the majority of neighborhoods at the time, was determined to be integrated.

"The people who stayed were strengthened by it," Hicks said.

Windsor Hills' racial integration was one of the reasons Martin Dyer chose the community 40 years ago as the place where he would raise his children.

"It was an organized effort by the neighborhood to stem white flight," Dyer said.

Like Hicks, Dyer feels that his children benefited from growing up in an environment where they were exposed to people of different cultures and backgrounds.

For Judy Bushong, who moved to Windsor Hills in 1991, living in a neighborhood where she got to know people of different races and nationalities was a new experience.

"That to me is another big attribute, because I've never lived in a diverse neighborhood before," Bushong said.

Neighborhoods where neighbors call each other by name and wave when they pass on the street can be hard to find, but Windsor Hills is as close-knit as ever.

"My neighbors are interesting people, and friendly," said Rafi Sharif, who has lived in Windsor Hills for 12 years.

The community is bounded by Leakin Park and Gwynns Falls Valley. It has many lush yards, and a conservation trail leads into Leakin Park.

"I walk every morning at 6, and it's just breathtakingly beautiful," Bushong said.

Some residents of the community near the edge of the city say they tend to forget that they are minutes away from the heart of a busy metropolis.

"My younger daughter's only complaint was that we lived in the wilderness," Dyer said.

Hicks recalled the days when her son and other neighborhood children played outside and in the yards and nearby woods.

"He and his friends used to catch crawfish in the stream," Hicks recalled.

Windsor Hills Neighbors Inc. is a century-old organization that plans events such as walks on the conservation trail and potluck dinners.

Community leaders said it doesn't matter whether residents own their homes and that renters are encouraged to join the association.

"There is a committee that organizes walks and one that organizes garden and house tours," Dyer said. "People regularly meet on the Windsor Hills trail."

As have many turn-of-the century neighborhoods in Baltimore, Windsor Hills has wrestled in recent years with the deterioration of some of its homes.

"The neighborhood has had a hard time maintaining quality houses," Dyer said.

Where Bushong lives, on Talbot Road, many of the homes are being restored.

"Most of the houses at my end of the neighborhood have either been demolished or are under construction," Bushong said.

Dyer noted that the community's population has decreased by about 300 during the past 10 years but that a recent influx of young families with jobs in Washington has begun to turn that around.

"We're now beginning to see that being less of a problem," he said. "Families have done miracles with it, and the houses have been transformed."

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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