Driving the streets of Lauraville, you may be shocked to encounter the unofficial mascot of this tiny community in Northeast Baltimore -- the red fox.
The small, sly animals are often sighted to the delight of neighbors and the disbelief of visitors. With the mallard ducks, rabbits, trout and squirrels that inhabit the area in and around the Herring Run stream, which borders Lauraville, the woods surrounding the houses also serve as a natural sanctuary for the animals that have been driven away by urban development.
The history of the community dates back to the 1800s, when early settlers in Baltimore lived on farms along Harford Road. The city-county line -- once called the "old northern boundary" -- used to be located in the heart of Lauraville, at the intersection of Elsrode and Overland avenues. And the first log schoolhouse in Baltimore County was here on land owned by the Read family, which also built a grist mill in the 1800s along the Herring Run.
Today, the neighborhood is a patchwork of large Victorian homes, semi-detached ranchers and bungalows with neat lawns and eclectic perennial gardens. At the dead end of one street is a huge community garden where neighbors spend winter days planning their crops and then take turns caring for the plots and sharing the harvest.
Next to Morgan State University and five miles from downtown Baltimore, Lauraville has attracted students and young professionals who rent and own the large homes, local real estate agents say. It also has many longtime residents who cherish its country character.
"It's peaceful here. It's very quiet," says Eugene George, 67, the past president of the Lauraville Community Association, who has lived in the neighborhood for 47 years. "I was lying awake last evening and it was so quiet I expected to hear a coyote howl."
Carl Sappington, a real estate agent with Long & Foster Real Estate Inc., describes Lauraville as a neighborhood that is "a little yuppish and one where the old hippies of the 1960s now live."
"It's an old timey thing," Mr. Sappington says. "Like the neighborhood in the movie 'Driving Miss Daisy.' There are older houses and lots of trees."
Mr. Sappington points out that homes in Lauraville have distinct characteristics: cedar closets, leaded stained glass windows, wraparound porches, built-in hutches and bright sun rooms. Yards, many oversized, double lots, have fruit trees. The average price is about $65,000.
"I like the area because it's one of the few that still has the nostalgic-type ambience," says Deborah Hill, editor of the community newsletter, The Lauraville News. "We call it Baltimore's best-kept secret. It lends itself to a bygone era: This is where it seems like it's a slower pace. . . . In the city you think of traffic and noise and none of these things are visible here."
The community is also known for its annual autumn fair. Small booths are set up in a grassy park off of Harford Road near a statue of Christopher Columbus, where local artists sell their crafts. Children make scarecrows, live music is played and visitors can purchase homemade vinegars. This year the fair will be Sept. 17.
The area is rooted in history. Lauraville became an official city community after the Civil War when it was awarded its own post office by the U.S. government. When postal regulations mandated a name for the community, local businessman John Henry Keene, who owned a lumber yard where Bond Lumber is now located, successfully lobbied to have the area named for his daughter, Laura.
Today, the neighborhood is bordered by Argonne Avenue on the south, Echodale Avenue on the north, Walther Boulevard on the east and the Herring Run stream on the west.
One of Lauraville's most endearing landmarks is the tiny Immanuel Cemetery, a German Lutheran cemetery in the 2800 block of Grindon Ave. The cemetery, nestled between large houses, has grave markers dating back to the 1800s. A petite brick chapel sits in the center.
Around the corner in the 4500 block of Hampnett Ave. is one of the neighborhood's greatest signs of hope. There, a newly renovated three-bedroom house is for sale thanks to the efforts of the nonprofit St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center.
Under a program called the Northeast Intervention Buying tTC Program that targets blighted properties for renovation and ultimately homeownership, the 25-year-old St. Ambrose center purchased the two-story home at 4514 Hampnett Ave. last year and turned the property around.
Frank Hodgetts, the northeast project coordinator for St. Ambrose, says the program is concentrated on vacant houses in the city's northeast section.
Even though Lauraville does not have a vacant house problem, the program has targeted certain properties in the neighborhood so they can be rehabbed and sold at market prices.
Population: 4,242 (1990 Census)
Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 10 minutes
Commuting time to Washington: 1 hour
Public schools: Garrett Heights Elementary, Hamilton Middle, Northern High
Shopping: Belvedere Square, Northwood Shopping Center
Nearest malls: Towson Town Center, 3 miles northwest; Rotunda Mall, 2 miles west
Points of interest: Lake Montebello; Herring Run Park; the German Lutheran Cemetery; Morgan State University
Zip code: 21214
Average price of single-family home*: $64,600 (22 sales)
* Average price for houses sold through the multiple listing service over the past 12 months provided by the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors.