St. John's Church of Huntingdon sits tucked away from the traffic of the 3000 block of Greenmount Ave., nearly invisible behind forsythia bushes that bloom profusely in spring. Originally built in 1846, destroyed by fire in 1858 and reconstructed in 1859, the Gothic stone church is a reminder of the time when Waverly was a country village called Huntingdon on the outskirts of Baltimore.
It was renamed "Waverley" after Sir Walter Scott's novel just after the Civil War, when residents' petition for a post office was denied due to the plethora of similarly named postal stations already in the state. Over the years, the second "e" was dropped.
Described as "a Victorian village" by the popular 19th century poet/author Lizette Woodworth Reese, Waverly was a summer getaway for wealthy Baltimoreans who built great mansion estates around Greenmount Avenue. "Reese lived in Waverly her whole life and used it as the setting for a number of her poems," said the Rev. Jesse Parker, St. John's rector. "She never married. She is buried in the cemetery with her parents."
Today, St. John's 11 bells chime the quarter-hour throughout what is now a vibrant, affordable, urban neighborhood that retains some of the village feel. Just a quarter-mile east of the Baltimore Museum of Art and in the shadow of Memorial Stadium, Waverly is bounded by Greenmount Avenue on the west, 39th Street and Ellerslie Avenue on the north, Exeter Hall Avenue on the south and Loch Raven Boulevard on the east.
Designated as a Baltimore City Conservation Area, the neighborhood has a comprehensive plan for neighborhood improvement.
According to Sandi Sparks of the Greater Homewood Community Corporation (GHCC), the homes are diverse and reflect Waverly's history and growth. There are simple wood frame homes, more ornate 100- to 110-year-old Victorian homes (on Old York Road) and the sturdily built post-World War I brick rowhouses that feature hardwood floors, fireplaces and sun porches. Ancient, gnarled trees such as the ones on Homestead Street stand guard and respectable front and back yards surround some of the detached and semidetached frame houses.
"Look at these houses. They are huge, and reasonably priced. Look at those trees," said Buzz Merrick, who moved from Savage to the city a few years ago. "In some places, it is hard to believe this is in the city," said Mr. Merrick, now co-chairman of the Better Waverly Association, one of two community associations active in Waverly. The Better Waverly Association is active in the portion of the community that is south of 33rd Street; the Waverly Improvement Association covers the area north of 33rd.
Houses in Waverly can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $84,000, depending on housing style and condition, said Barney Simpson of Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty. The larger Victorian houses tend to be higher-priced, he said. Last year, 34 Waverly houses sold for an average price of $42,000. According to Simpson, there are about 46 houses in the neighborhood currently on the market.
According to John Grupenhoff of Long and Foster's Towson office, a Waverly house sells in an average of 121 days, with an average list price of $43,000.
"Waverly is a good place for a first-time homebuyer," said Steven Wilson, director of the Waverly Homeownership Program. According to Mr. Wilson, anyone wishing to purchase a home in one of Baltimore's seven conservation areas can apply for a $7,500 loan that usually meets a down payment and closing costs. If the homeowner lives in the house for 10 years, the loan is forgiven, Mr. Wilson said.
A drive through the neighborhood reveals a number of boarded-up houses. The GHCC's Waverly Housing Program, along with St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, the Chesapeake Habitat for Humanity, and the Baltimore Housing Partnership, work together to identify abandoned houses. "We then acquire and rehab them and resell them to first-time homebuyers," Mr. Wilson said. At least 10 houses were sold last year as a result of this program.
While the arrival of the National Football League Browns at Memorial Stadium will bring money into the area, most of the residents see greater potential in the Johns Hopkins University's recent purchase of the old Eastern High School, hoping for a long-term economic boost for the area.
"The Browns will be gone in two years, and the big question then is what is going to happen to Memorial Stadium," said Jim Fendler, co-chairman of the Waverly Improvement Association. Despite the stadium uncertainty, Waverly's residents tend to be committed to city living and dedicated to the neighborhood's survival.
"So far, we have had two anti-crime rallies and staged a successful read-in at the public library to reverse a decision to reduce the amount of hours it would be open," Mr. Merrick said. "More than 100 people showed up for the read-in."
Community members also worked to defeat a City Council bill supporting a zoning change on a property that now is an auto body shop. "The change would have allowed for more than 160 uses on a one-way neighborhood street," Mr. Merrick said, noting that a number of people attended council meetings, wrote letters and called representatives to voice their objections over the proposed change.
Earleen Henderson, a member of the improvement association and a block captain on McKewin Avenue, regards her street as a village within a village. A resident since 1975, Ms. Henderson produces McKewin Avenue Highlights, a monthly newsletter that she personally distributes to the 75 households on her street.
"It is news about the neighbors, birthdays and what's going on at the meetings," said Ms. Henderson, who discovered the neighborhood when she was a student at Morgan State University. "We have our own block meetings every Tuesday," she noted.
Ms. Henderson also organizes a summer block party that includes clowns and other entertainment for children and bands for adults. "There's something for everyone," said Ms. Henderson, who often knocks on the doors of her elderly neighbors "to see if they are OK, if they need anything."
"I love living here," she explained. "All the neighbors are so friendly. It is such a close community, and there are all kinds of people."
Waverly has numerous family-oriented activities, centers and shops. A year-round farmers' market is open from 6 a.m. to noon every Saturday on a parking lot at 32nd and Barclay streets. Farmers from surrounding counties and parts of Pennsylvania, as well as local vendors such as the Cafe Metropol, the Coffee Mill and others, sell everything from fresh produce to French bread, flowers and plants. "Living in Waverly and being able to walk to the farmers' market is a great thing," said Mike Franch, a Waverly historian and a transplanted Washingtonian.
"I go to the farmers' market every week; it's a great place to get fresh food," said longtime resident Linda Brown. "It is especially nice before the holidays."
Donna Beth Joy Shapiro, who operates the Old Waverly History Exchange & Tea Room at 414 E. 31st St., said she discovered Waverly when she was in high school, coming down to the thrift shops on Greenmount Avenue. "Some of these Victorian houses are just stunning," said Ms. Shapiro, a preservationist who has rehabilitated two homes in the area. While she mourns the closing of Greenmount Avenue's "really good thrifts," Ms. Shapiro remains committed to the area and to the city. "I don't think I will ever move to the county," she said emphatically while preparing heart-shaped cookies for tea room customers.
On the first floor in the antiques section of her establishment, Ms. Shapiro displays a map of Waverly from the 1800s. On another wall, there is a 1920s photo of the original owners of the frame houses in which the tea room is located, and she can describe the community's history in detail.
"I believe in the neighborhood," Ms. Shapiro said. "I chose to move here. It is convenient to everything."
Population: 6,600 (1990 Census)
Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 15 minutes
Public schools: Waverly Elementary, Abbottston Elementary, Hamilton Middle, Roland Park Middle, Lake Clifton High, Northern High.
Points of Interest: Memorial Stadium, Lake Montebello, Herring Run Park, Wyman Park, Baltimore Museum of Art
Shopping: Greenmount Avenue retail district
Nearest mall: Mondawmin
ZIP code: 21218
Average price of a single-family home: $42,000 (Based on 34 sales during the past 12 months through Mid-Atlantic Real Estate Information Technologies Inc.