It has almost become a rite of passage, Dundalk residents say.
Their children pack up and leave the familiarity of Dundalk after high school or college looking to build a life elsewhere. But residents in the southeastern Baltimore County community don't worry about the future of their neighborhood.
Like clockwork, it seems, the wanderers return home a few years later to settle down and raise a family.
"It's like we don't know how much we loved the area until we leave," said Tracy Salman, who grew up in Dundalk and moved to Kentucky after she got married. "But once I went away, I knew that I couldn't settle anywhere else. This place is home and I want it to be home for my children."
Salman, who purchased her first home after returning to Dundalk in June, wanted her four children to grow up around their grandmother and other family members in the area.
Not only has Salman enjoyed living down the street from her extended family, but she soon discovered that many of her childhood friends had returned to Dundalk as well.
"Many of the people I know here moved away just like me," Salman said. "But we all find out that 'away' is not always the best place to be. Everyone makes it back eventually."
While some -- like Salman -- leave Dundalk for career or economic reasons, others leave in order to finally crawl out from under the unflattering shadow that is sometimes cast on Dundalk's residents. But the opinions of Dundalk's neighbors do very little to deter the community, residents say.
"It's almost a separate society," said Dundalk's Lisa Bentzin, who moved to Dundalk after leaving in 1991. "Everyone knows everyone else and just gets very involved within Dundalk."
The community of Dundalk is considered to be generally bounded on the north by North Point Boulevard, Sparrows Point to the south, Kane Street to the west and Turners Station to the east.
And Key Realty's Carolyn Heggie said few of Dundalk's residents spend substantial time outside those invisible lines.
"From the PTA to civic organizations to church groups, people in Dundalk get involved with each other," Heggie said. "There are people in Dundalk who rarely if ever leave the community because they have everything there."
With shopping centers lining Merritt Boulevard, and Movies 10 Eastpoint and Eastpoint Mall only a few blocks apart, residents don't have to look outside their community for entertainment or everyday shopping.
For Kimberly Doyle and her fiance, Eric Baughman, entertainment is just out their front door.
"Every Fourth of July, the parade here in Dundalk begins and ends right in front of my house," Doyle said. "That's why I love this house so much."
Doyle and Baughman moved into their brick townhouse at the end of September. Both grew up in the Dundalk area, and Doyle had had her eye on that house since she was a child.
"It's right on the corner and the parade starts there; I always wished I lived in that house," she said.
Sense of family
Dundalk residents say they are attracted to the sense of family in a community where several generations might live on the same block, attend the same school and church or even share a home.
When Violet Crouse moved to Baltimore with her husband in 1994, she knew it wouldn't be a permanent move -- she had lived in Dundalk long enough to know better. Four years later, she bought a house in Dundalk on the block where her mother lives.
"I didn't want my kids to go to some strange school in the city," said Crouse, a 29-year-old mother of three. "Now, my children will go to the same school as me and my mother went to."
Patrick Welsh, manager of the Dundalk office for O'Conor, Piper & Flynn ERA, said selling homes to people who grew up in Dundalk or are buying another home in the area makes for a highly active real estate market.
"People who live in Dundalk look to buy their second and third homes in Dundalk as well, instead of moving to another area. It's a very internal market, and that makes for a high turnover," Welsh said.
According to the Metropolitan Regional Information System Inc. -- the multiple-listing service for Realtors -- 82 homes were sold in Dundalk in the past 12 months, with an average selling price of $79,262.
"We may not be experiencing the boom of other areas, but people are lining up to live here," Welsh said. "Homes are not on the market here for too long."
With homes in the primarily rowhouse community on the market for just more than five months and selling at or near list price, Dundalk is still growing nearly a century after it was founded.
Before World War I, the community was little more than a station on the Baltimore and Sparrows Point Railroad. In 1894, Henry McShane, who operated a bell factory in what is now Dundalk, had christened the railroad station "Dundalk Station" in memory of his birthplace in Ireland.
The entry into World War I brought expansion to the little community as shipyard workers for Bethlehem Steel Corp. relocated to 1,000 acres of farmland the company had purchased in Dundalk to house its workers.
The growth continued even through the Great Depression and, by 1930, Dundalk's 1,500 homes housed more than 8,000 residents.
"Dundalk has always been part of Baltimore's industry," Welsh said. "It makes for hard-working people and keeps the area growing."
Zip code: 21222
Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 20 minutes
Public schools: Dundalk High School, Patapsco High School, Holabird Middle, Dundalk Middle, Gen. John Stricker Middle, Dundalk Elementary, Colgate Elementary, Norwood Elementary, Sollers Point Southeastern Technical, Charlesmont Elementary, Bear Creek Elementary, Grange Elementary, Logan Elementary
Shopping: Eastpoint Mall, Danville Square Shopping Center, Merritt Point Shopping Center, Merritt Park Shopping Center, Wal-Mart
Homes on market: 58*
Average listing price: $82,176*
Average sales price: $79,263*
Average days on market: 161*
Sales price as a percentage of listing price: 96.46%*
*Based on 82 sales in the past 12 months as recorded by the Metropolitan Regional Information System.