In Baltimore's immediate suburban environs, there is no lack of interesting, historic, one-of-a-kind neighborhoods. A certain restricted one on the southwestern edge of the city line is, indeed, worth a close look. The only requirement for living in this particular "little town" is age.
Charlestown, established in 1983 on the site of the former St. Charles Seminary, is a planned retirement community situated on a 110-acre wooded campus in Catonsville, minutes from the Inner Harbor and the Baltimore Beltway.
All of its residents are required to be 65 years old or older. A large percentage enjoy full retirement, which is to say they no longer hassle with the daily 9-to-5 routine. Yet most will heartily concede they've never been busier in their lives.
"The residents here are so busy, you have to catch them when you can," says Nancy Abramson, the public relations coordinator at Charlestown.
An immediate preoccupation of Abramson and her seniors is last-minute preparation for the quarterly event known as "Treasure Sale." Open to the public, the sale consists of residents' donated items, with all proceeds going to the Charlestown Benevolent Care Fund. The fund ensures that no residents of this life care community, once they are financially approved for entry, will ever be asked to leave should financial misfortune occur.
Community founder John Erickson is chairman and chief executive of Erickson Retirement Communities, the company that built and manages Charlestown. Having seen a need for the more service-oriented, campus-style life-care retirement, he went on to oversee the development of nine other campuses across the nation, including Oak Crest Village in Parkville and Riderwood Village in Silver Spring.
Life care is the underlying reason most of the people move there. Abramson explains that one of the most important benefits for residents is receiving regular care. The on-site medical center is staffed five days a week by full-time physicians, and a doctor is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Should there be an illness or injury requiring temporary nursing assistance, Charlestown's home support service allows residents to recuperate in their apartments. Should the situation warrant, an on-site extended care facility is available.
While Charlestown's life care is a "peace-of-mind insurance policy" for its residents, emotionally equipping them for whatever lies ahead, the majority in this community enjoy each day surrounded with amenities normally found in a resort. In fact, Abramson is reminded of a resident, Eleanor Mansolillo, who once said, "We feel like we're on a cruise ship that never docks."
A wise move
Dr. Gloria Oden, a writer and resident for five years, seems to speak for most when she says, "It was the wisest move I could have made. All of my family is gone. I needed [a family environment]."
Oden also appreciates her time spent alone, writing, in her apartment.
There are two costs encountered in a move to Charlestown.
First, there is a 100 percent refundable entrance fee, which varies depending on the size of the apartment chosen. (There are 1,900 on the campus.) Entrance deposits cover the cost of the apartment, and range in price from $58,000 for an efficiency unit to $393,000 or more for two-bedroom, two-bath with sunroom apartments. All have kitchens. This deposit also covers the cost of community spaces, including the medical center, dining rooms, craft studios, classrooms, connecting corridors and outdoor areas.
The second cost involves a monthly fee of $951 to $1,696, again based on apartment size. If two persons occupy the apartment, the second pays an additional $513 monthly. These payments cover all utilities except telephone.
The included amenities are the things that make for a neighborhood atmosphere. For example, the six dining rooms at Charlestown each serve three meals daily, one per day covered by the monthly fee.
A happy couple
James Libertini and his wife, Betty, residents for the past six years, find meals to be one of the best perks in the community. Jim, who also enjoys working in the wood shop, remembers when "dinner used to be the loneliest time of the day. Now, it's the happiest time." Betty, who runs the campus community theater, agrees. "I'm one of the luckiest people I know," she says.
"'Community' is what you make of it each and every day," says Rose Kanter, with 10 years at Charlestown. "If you need somebody [to interact with] there is always someone here." This former controller for the Rouse Co. is interested in genealogy and active in the Bridge Club. She looks forward to an impending tournament with Oak Crest.
Charlestown's amenities include a guarded campus with a gated entrance and a security staff on duty 24 hours a day. Within the protected neighborhood there is a post office, beauty salon, barbershop, convenience store, branch banks and medical center.
"We even have our own voting precinct," Abramsom says.
Every area, space and apartment is inter-connected by climate-controlled walkways. There is a crafts studio, card rooms and a library, as well as a computer lab with Internet access. This particularly appeals to Dr. James Greely, a recently retired dentist. He is also very involved in sports and exercise. Though at Charlestown for just a little over a year, he is pleased that the community has turned out to be what he expected.
While there is ample parking for residents with cars and their visitors, many choose to take advantage of the free shuttle service, which has several vans to take them around town.
There are no "For Sale" signs at Charlestown. Interested prospective residents place their names on a priority list, along with a nonobligating, refundable $1,000 deposit.
Charlestown is "anything you want it to be," Abramson says. She sees it as a small village, a neighborhood of caring, life-loving, community-minded people, who "do a lot more than weave baskets."
ZIP code: 21228
Commuting time from downtown: 10 minutes
Refundable entrance deposit: $58,000 to $398,000
Shopping: Village of Catonsville, Security Square Mall, downtown.