When architect Darragh Brady and her husband, Edward, decided to move from New York City to Baltimore in 1989, they had no idea where they would end up living.
On an exploratory trip, they drove through a small neighborhood in Pikesville called Sudbrook Park. The Bradys knew instantly that it was the place for them.
"We absolutely fell in love with it," Brady said, "and we've been in love with it ever since."
It's not surprising that an architect would be drawn to Sudbrook Park. The neighborhood was designed by one of America's most famous landscape architects, Frederick Law Olmsted Sr., the man behind New York's Central Park.
Sudbrook Park residents love Olmsted's design - the curving streets, the open green spaces, and the big, old trees that make it feel more like a country village than a planned suburban community.
"I grew up in a small town," said Caroline Black-Sotir, who has lived in Sudbrook Park for 15 years, "and Sudbrook Park has that feel."
Olmsted is most famous for his parks, but he also was an early planner of residential suburbs. Sudbrook Park is one of three remaining examples of his designs in the country. (His son, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., also was a landscape architect and planner, and created Roland Park, Guilford and Homeland.)
Sudbrook Park was born in 1889. It originally was part of an estate belonging to James Howard McHenry, a farmer from a prominent Maryland family. He was the grandson of James McHenry, George Washington's secretary of war, for whom Fort McHenry was named.
After McHenry's death in 1888, a group of investors bought part of his estate and asked Olmsted to come up with a plan. His design included curvilinear roads, which were different from the straight grids favored by most planners of the time, and open green spaces to be used as community gathering places. The entrance to the community was (and still is) over a one-lane bridge.
"You come across the one-lane bridge," Brady said, "and it's like Brigadoon."
The first nine houses and an inn were completed in 1890 (the inn was destroyed by fire in 1926). Although Sudbrook Park was designed as a year-round suburban community, sales were slow, primarily because its eight-mile distance from downtown Baltimore was too far. There also was limited electricity and train service available.
Instead, Sudbrook Park became popular as a summer rental community.
The community had about 50 houses until 1929. But from 1939 to 1954, hundreds of red brick neo-Colonial and Cape Cod-style homes were built on the remaining land. These, too, were built within the principles of Olmsted's design, which recommended that houses be constructed a certain distance from the road, on a certain amount of land, and that the old trees be preserved.
Although Sudbrook Park's first homes were known as "cottages," many were large. Mostly built during the 1890s and early 1900s, the dwellings range from four to nine bedrooms and come in shingle, foursquare, Dutch Colonial and Victorian style. Most have wrap-around porches and large front and back yards. The majority of the older homes are on Windsor Road, Sudbrook Lane, Cliveden Road and Howard Road.
"The 'cottage' style," Brady said, "was done to evoke an idea of country living, of getting away from the city."
Most of the red brick neo-Colonials and Cape Cods have three or four bedrooms, and also have large front and back yards. These are on Adana, Windsor, Cliveden, and Carysbrook, Olmsted and Kingston roads, among others.
"Each back yard is an oasis," said Karen Donaldson, a real estate agent with RE/MAX Ambassadors. "Every time we go out back, everyone's jaw drops."
Sudbrook Park residents said they feel a sense of responsibility for their neighborhood and their houses.
"There's a feeling that even though the house is yours, you're taking care of it for future generations," said Black-Sotir, who lives in one of the original cottages.
Over the years, the community has had to fight for Sudbrook Park's existence.
In the 1960s, the state wanted to build a six-lane highway through the neighborhood. And during the late 1970s, there were plans to put a subway line through it. Both times the community mobilized against the proposals and won.
"They look at the grass and they say, ah ha, this is a good spot," said Anson, a former lawyer turned writer and community activist. "They don't value the green spaces in Olmsted's plan."
The neighborhood association remains active - it recently won a battle with the county to keep the bridge at one lane. County officials had hoped to make it two.
A committee reviews all plans for exterior renovations to homes, since the neighborhood is on the National Register of Historic Sites and a Baltimore County Historic District. And every year there's a flower and bake sale the Saturday before Mother's Day, parades on July 4th and Halloween, Arts in the Park in September and a holiday tree lighting celebration in December.
Prices for the older homes average about $430,000. The red brick neo-Colonials and Cape Cods typically sell for about $235,000.
The older homes are popular, but like most old wood houses, they require a lot of love and attention. One seller, Donaldson said, told her that the house "didn't need a new buyer, it needed a new caretaker."
Once they move in, few Sudbrook Park residents leave.
Jacqueline Cox has lived in the neighborhood since 1948, in the house next door to the one where her husband grew up.
"I think the amazing thing," Cox said, "is that my husband never moved more than a quarter of a mile from his first home."
Many residents first buy one of the red brick homes, because they go on sale more frequently, and then move into one of the larger homes later. Some residents take the opposite approach, downsizing to the red brick homes.
ZIP code: 21208
Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 20-25 minutes
Public Schools: Bedford Elementary, Pikesville Middle, Sudbrook Magnet Middle, Milford Mill Academy
Shopping: Stores along Reisterstown Road, Giant on Old Court Road, Festival at Woodholme, Owings Mills Mall, Towson Town Center
Homes on market: 0
Average list price: $321,960 *
Average sales price: $314,480 *
Average days on market: 31 *
Percentage of sales price compared with list price: 98% *
*Based on 10 homes sold during the past 12 months as compiled by Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.