Back in the late 1950s, developers Albert and Rogers Merritt had an idea. They would build upscale executive houses in Anne Arundel County, making them bigger and more expensive than anything else in the area.
There was just one problem.
With no similar housing in the immediate area, why would professionals and executives, who could live almost anywhere in the region, travel to Severna Park, drive up a dirt road and pay more than $30,000 for a house, when others in the area cost less than $20,000?
Build a golf course, thought the Merritt brothers, and they will come.
"It was quite a gamble," recalled G. Brian Brandon, who, along with the Merritt brothers, coordinated the development of Chartwell, a golf-and-country-club community off Benfield Road.
"We figured if we didn't have the golf course and club built, people would drive up this dirt road and say, 'Oh sure, you're going to build a golf course.' We had to have something to show them."
But building such an expensive facility before any houses were sold was risky from the start.
"We had $3 million tied up in mortgages. We opened a sample house in May 1961 and held an opening, and three people came," said Mr. Brandon, who lives in a large brick Colonial with its back to the 15th hole of the golf course. "I just about went out back and threw up."
Things started picking up later that year, he said, when St. Ives Drive -- the community's central road -- was finally paved as far up as the country club and golf course. Although the Merritt brothers, who had developed less expensive communities in the area, planned to build 15 to 20 houses a year, they were building as many as 30 once the "planned golf course community" concept caught on.
Today, Chartwell is a stable, well-maintained community of 625 homes on beautifully landscaped half-acre lots, with mature trees and numerous amenities. Many streets in the community wind around the golf course, with views of ponds, golf greens and wooded areas. Over the years, homeowners have added great rooms, sun rooms, porches, decks and patios to take advantage of the views and backyard gardens.
"The houses were beautiful, substantial," said Mary Henstrand, who moved to Chartwell from Glen Burnie in 1971. "We moved here because we found we could get more for our money."
Like many of Chartwell's original homeowners, the Henstrands said they were attracted by the spacious, well-built homes, recreational amenities and large trees.
"We travel a lot and we have never found any place that's as nice as Chartwell," said Mrs. Henstrand, a former president of the Chartwell Community Association. "It's the friendliness of the people. You feel so comfortable here."
Bob and Marilyn Fiertz relocated from Georgia in 1968 so he could take a job with Exxon, then located in Odenton. The Fiertzes were sold on Chartwell after learning about the country club's extensive programs and activities.
"It had a country club that catered to the whole family. All four of our daughters were active in the swim program," Mr. Fiertz said. "We like the neighbors. We like the ready access to the club. It's comfortable living."
Another plus, he said, is Chartwell's proximity to the Severn River, just minutes away, and the Chesapeake Bay, about 15 minutes away. The community is so close to Annapolis that many residents enjoy restaurants and shopping in the state capital on a regular basis.
"The homes are all very well maintained and have certainly maintained their value over the years," added his wife, Marilyn, who sells real estate for Prudential Preferred properties. "Many children who grew up here are now moving back as adults. We have a lot of younger, lovely families moving in."
Dave Nocar, who moved to the community when he was 14, and his wife, Robin, who moved with her family when she was a sophomore in college, are one such family. Both of their families still live in the community.
"I loved it," Ms. Nocar said. "We came from a small town in Ohio where there was nothing. No shopping, no water, no golf course. There's so much to do here."
The Nocars bought a house in another Severna Park community when they first married. But after they started a family and decided to buy a larger house, Chartwell was the only community they considered. They like the convenience to services and shopping, the large trees and the community's "established feel."
"I really like our house. And I like being close to my parents and in-laws," Ms. Nocar said. "The schools are good, from what I understand. It's a solid community."
Her husband, a six-time country club golf champion, enjoys the proximity to the course but also stressed the quality of the houses as a reason for moving to Chartwell.
"These houses are sturdy; they're built to last," he said. "They just don't build houses like that anymore."
Chartwell's residents tend to be professionals who commute to jobs in Baltimore, Annapolis, Washington and elsewhere. Resales range from a low of about $200,000 to $500,000 and more, with houses backing on the golf course generally fetching the highest prices.
The initiation fee to join Chartwell Golf and Country Club now is $12,500 in addition to monthly fees, which run $300 and up depending on the services used.
The community also supports another recreational facility, the St. Andrews Swim and Tennis Club -- substantially less expensive and attractive to families who find the country club too pricey.
The only complaints from Chartwell residents involve increased traffic, both on local roads and overhead as planes head into Baltimore-Washington International Airport, about eight miles northwest of the community.
As the airport has expanded over the years, more and more jetliners and turboprops have been routed over Chartwell and Severna Park, which is under a major flight path.
Some residents said the problem of airport noise has lessened in recent years with the help of the airport; others said it continues to be an annoyance.
Newer surrounding developments also have put more cars on the roads, with a fair amount of traffic cutting through Chartwell.
"That's the only thing I don't like -- the traffic on St. Ives Drive," Ms. Nocar said.
But there is plenty to like, she added. And inside the community, the overwhelming impression is of green, open spaces and comfortable suburban living, where traffic jams and airport hubbub seem distant indeed.
Population: 1,687 (1990 Census)
Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 30 minutes
Commuting time to Washington: 50 minutes
Public schools: Benfield Elementary School; Severna Park Middle School; Severna Park High School.
Shopping: Benfield Village Shopping Center, with Safeway; Festival Shopping Center, with Valu Food; Severna Park Mall, with Giant, Caldor and other stores; Severna Park Village, with Rite Aid, cleaners, restaurants and other stores; Park Plaza, with The Cosmetic Center, Ace Hardware, gift and clothing stores, banks, restaurants, offices and other services.
Nearest mall: Marley Station Mall, 5 miles north; Annapolis Mall, about 11 miles south.
Points of interest: Chartwell Golf and Country Club; St. Andrews Swim and Tennis Club; Kinder Park, with ball fields and playground; the Severn River and Severn Run Environmental Area, 1 miles south; Baltimore Washington International Airport, about 8 miles northwest; historic Annapolis, about 12 miles south.
ZIP code: 21146
Average price of single family homes*: $244,200 (34 sales)*
* Average price for homes sold through STELLAR, the multiple listing service for Anne Arundel County, during the past 12 months.