Life by the water, with a splash of history

As a child, Conrad Judy used to come to London Towne in the late 1930s with his parents to picnic on the two adjoining lots they owned and swim in the water that surrounded the peninsula.

In 1976, Judy decided to build a home on the same lots so that his family could visit and have a picnic or go boating. When he retired in 1987, he and his wife, Virginia, moved from West Hyattsville into their London Towne house.

"I like being close to Annapolis and the water," said Judy, who added two more lots to the property over the years. "Up until two years ago, we owned a boat and we would walk down in the evenings and take the boat out and eat on the South River."

Located in the Edgewater section of Anne Arundel County, London Towne consists of about 2,100 homes on the Woodland Beach peninsula.

"As a retirement location, I love it," Judy said. "The neighborhood is really nice, and the people really help you out. They will check on my wife when I'm out of town, and when it snows they will go to the store for us."

Because of the large selection of homes, London Towne is a desirable location for first-time homebuyers as well as for retirees.

"There's a variety of houses here, everything from beach cottages to $1 million waterfronts," said Kerry Muse, a real estate agent with the Edgewater office of Re/Max Innovations for the past 20 years and a London Towne resident for more than 25 years.

Once a thriving port

Founded in the 1680s, London Towne was once a thriving port community focused on Maryland's tobacco export trade. At the height of its popularity, the town boasted nearly 100 houses and several taverns and was the site of the county courthouse.

In 1747, however, the Maryland General Assembly withdrew the town's designation as a tobacco inspection station, and it entered into a period of decline.

In the early 1930s, cottages on 20-by-100-foot lots started to spring up as the community was used as a summer destination for residents of Annapolis, Baltimore and Washington.

After public water and sewer were made available, the area experienced a boom in construction during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The community is home to more than four miles of shoreline. Property owners have access to five community beaches and three boat ramps. Marinas dot the waterfront community.

"The neighborhood has so many privileges and has a lot of the things people are looking for in this area, namely the water," Muse said. "We would have people from Baltimore or Washington come to the community and buy a lot to become a property owner as an investment and to house their boat."

The community is made up of a mixture of house styles, including the original summer cottages, Colonials, Cape Cods, split-levels, ranchers and bungalows. The average asking price is between $120,000 and $130,000.

Very affordable, Muse said, considering the availability of waterfront privileges and being less than an hour's drive from Baltimore and Washington, and less than four miles from Annapolis.

"People come here because of the price, and they like it because of the water," Muse said. "The schools are also an attractive incentive and why many people move here."

The affordable price combined with the waterfront benefits attracted Donald and Marian Creveling to the area nine years ago.

"We had a small boat and liked the water. We looked in London Towne and found a house we liked and the price was reasonable. We thought it was such a nice community," said Donald Creveling.

"It has a real small-town atmosphere to it. There's a community hall and community bingo. And there are lots of young children," he said.

Creveling also enjoys the community's diverseness.

"There's such a mixture of tradesman, professionals and self-employed people. You have that variety of different kinds of people and they are all drawn together by their love of the Chesapeake Bay, the South River, boating, fishing and crabbing," Creveling said. "Then you have everything from an original summer cottage to the year-round housing. There's a lot of variety. And there isn't one street where all the houses look the same."

Community activism

Creveling has become involved in the busy London Towne Property Owners Association.

"There is also a level of activism here that ranges from people who are lifelong residents to relative newcomers, all who want to improve the community and keep the neighborhood cohesiveness."

As a special tax district, London Towne homeowners are assessed a fee of $25 per lot, which comes directly back to the community for internal public works projects. Much of the money is used for ground maintenance, security and beach upkeep. Recently, the association has undertaken a massive beautification project to combat erosion of the shorelines along the South River, Glebe Bay, Glebe Creek and Almshouse Creek.

"Within the next two years, we should at least doubly improve the appearance of our shoreline; we want our community to be a model, and it's going to be," said Royce Ball, president of the Property Owners Association. Ball moved to London Towne from Catonsville 11 years ago after seeking a rural community close to the water.

"I knew I wanted to live by the water. We live just 1 1/2 blocks from the water so we can walk to the beach anytime," Ball said. "I love it. It's quiet and it still maintains its small-town charm. But there are still quite a lot of recreational opportunities."

The association recently formed a liaison with Historic London Towne and Gardens, a 23-acre park owned by the London Towne Foundation and the Anne Arundel County Department of Recreation and Parks.

Within its boundaries at the end of Londontown Road is part of the original late 17th-century and early 18th-century town. The site is being excavated by archaeologists from the Lost Towns Project. The facility also features the William Brown House, a National Historic Landmark house museum, and an 8-acre woodland garden.

"They respect our community and respect the fact that we are concerned about the over-development of that area," Ball said. "We view the [facility] not only as a neighborhood jewel, but as a county, state and national jewel as well."

Worried about traffic coming through the neighborhood, the community formed the liaison to ensure continuing good relations with the historic facility.

Greg Stieverson, executive director of Historic London Towne and Gardens, couldn't be happier with the arrangement.

"I have pledged myself to making London Towne the single most important asset of this community. And I will only see us as being truly successful if the community sees us as their greatest asset," Stieverson said.

"Their concerns are the same as ours. This is a great community down here."

London Towne

Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 45 minutes

Public schools: Edgewater Elementary, Central Middle, South River High

Shopping: Annapolis Mall, Woodland Center, the Market at South River Colony, Annapolis Harbor Center

ZIP code: 21037