CELEBRATING ITS 40th anniversary this summer, the Severna Park neighborhood of Chartwell might be entering middle age, but it's not losing its charm.
The first section of the 598-home community was developed in the 1960s by brothers Charles "Al" Merritt and Guy "Roger" Merritt. The brothers were descendants of a family associated with Maryland since the 18th century, when the first Merritts immigrated to the United States from their home on the Severn River in Tewksbury, England.
A member of a Navy construction battalion during World War II, Al Merritt was on assignment in England when he got to know some of the great estates of his ancestral country. One that he particularly liked was Chartwell, Winston Churchill's home for the last 40 years of his life.
Returning to Maryland after the war, Al Merritt and his brother bought 315 acres of farmland between Kinder Road and Benfield Road to develop as a residential community. They chose the name Chartwell and borrowed street names from a London road map, says custom home builder Mel Merritt, Al Merritt's son.
Building Chartwell kept his family busy for 25 years, says the younger Merritt.
The original tract extended from St. Ives Drive on the west to St. Andrews Road on the east. Later sections were built on property purchased from Kinder Farm that extended farther east to Jumpers Hole Road. Wembly Way and Highfield Court mark the final additions to Chartwell.
The appeal of quiet streets and mature landscaping notwithstanding, what really helps to make Chartwell one of the most popular destinations for potential home buyers in Anne Arundel County has more to do with that old real estate nugget, "location, location, location."
With easy access to Interstate 97 and a short drive from Baltimore-Washington International airport, Chartwell has amenities that are strong selling points. Within the community are St. Andrews Swim and Tennis Club, available to all Chartwell residents, and the Chartwell Golf and Country Club, built by Al Merritt and opened on Memorial Day 1961, before the first house in the community was built. In 1963, he sold the club to its members.
Nearby is Kinder Farm Park, with its 2.4 miles of paved walking paths in a lush natural setting. Residents send their youngsters to three of the county's highest-rated public schools, Benfield Elementary, Severna Park Middle and Severna Park High.
Alan and Gillian Porter, natives of Britain, feel an affinity for the Anglophilic Chartwell. The Porters, with daughters Meggan, 12, and Erin, 10, lived in Severna Park before being transferred to California. When they returned to Maryland a year later, they thought Chartwell would be a "good place to make a family home." Now they're co-editors of the community newsletter, Chartwell Compass.
Paul and Elizabeth Dolan and their 8-year-old daughter, Liza-Bart, are new residents of Chartwell. His job as a food broker in Columbia brought them to Maryland from Richmond, Va., where Elizabeth Dolan had lifelong ties and had been raised in a home that had been in her family for three generations.
"If I was going to be uprooted," she said, "I wanted to live in a neighborhood with roots." She says she and her husband "did a 30-mile circle around Columbia," and liked Severna Park, especially the stability of Chartwell. With Chartwell houses often selling within days of going on the market, Paul Dolan moved quickly when a house became available.
"I never even saw the house before we bought it," said his wife. "Signing a contract without me was the bravest thing my husband has ever done."
Their real estate agent, Roe Fitzgerald, a resident of Chartwell for 22 years, assured them that they'd be "happy as clams in Chartwell," which the Dolans have found to be true.
Average home prices in Chartwell are $300,000 to $400,000. One house recently sold for more than $500,000, and another is on the market for $600,000, Fitzgerald said.