Wiltondale 'too good to pass up'

When Pat and Dan Collins were moving from London to Baltimore two years ago, they weren't looking to buy another house.

In fact, they already owned a townhouse in Timonium that was formerly used as a rental property, where they and their two children, Peter and Grace, had planned to relocate. Despite their intentions, however, the couple decided to look around, out of curiosity, at other houses on the market. Three house-tours later, they found something they hadn't planned on -- their ideal home, in a neighborhood called Wiltondale.

"We liked the neighborhood -- good schools, charming houses, lots of kids, lots of families, and it is close to everything. It was too good to pass up," Pat Collins said.

Homes in the neighborhood have moved quickly during the past 12 months, according to Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc., the listing service used by brokers and agents. Nineteen homes sold during the past year, staying on the market an average of 20 days and fetching an average price of $313,468.

In December 2001, the Collinses moved to this quiet community of more than 350 homes in Towson. Upon their arrival, they were greeted by neighbors who brought baked goods and invited them to dinner. The community association gave them a freshly potted plant and a neighborhood directory.

Before moving to London about five years ago, the Collinses had lived in Michigan, in a 3,500-square-foot home with a large, two-story foyer. Before that, they had lived in an urban, waterfront house in Memphis, Tenn. The couple also had lived in the Baltimore area years before.

Their new house -- a two-story, three-bedroom brick Colonial with a landscaped yard -- is "not a big McMansion," according to Pat, who said living in London made the couple appreciate living in a smaller home. Wiltondale's convenient location and family orientation added to the draw, the couple said.

Once a stud farm, Wiltondale (named for a thoroughbred horse once stabled there) was subdivided for residential development during the late 1920s, according to records from the Wiltondale Improvement Association. Southland Hills Co. developed the first section of the area, using Spanish names for the streets, which later were changed to English names by the developer.

The community, completed in 1952, was developed in three sections by several local builders, including James L. McGraw & Sons, Raymond A. Arnold and C. Albert Merritt & Co. Consequently, the area boasts a variety of architectural styles, ranging from Cape Cod to Colonial single-family homes.

Of special interest to historians and arborists, Wiltondale is home to one of Maryland's 300 oldest trees, based on 1976 findings of the Maryland Forest Service. The approximately 300-year-old white oak at 514 Yarmouth Road is the last natural landmark of the original tract.

"We as a community treasure what we have: a series of well-built homes in a pleasant setting, our own park, a community pool. And we like to maintain the aesthetics of our neighborhood as best we can," said Christopher Erwin, chairman of Wiltondale Improvement Association. "We are constantly working and keeping an eye on what's going on in terms of development in the area, to see that whatever changes are going to be made are compatible with our way of life."

Most recently, he said, the association has been involved in the process of Towson University's development of a master plan.

Ashton and Angel Menefee moved to Wiltondale two years ago from nearby Rodgers Forge. At the time, they had two children and were looking for a home with a bigger yard, more space and a community with more families.

"Despite the fact that Rodgers Forge had the reputation for having families with tons of kids, we were on a block that had a lot of original owners and we really didn't have any kids right around us," Angel Menefee said.

The Menefees wanted to remain in Baltimore County, yet they also wanted to be close to the city, where they enjoy spending time on the weekends. But the family does most of its shopping in Towson. She and her husband looked "everywhere," Menefee said, and then found Wiltondale.

"We uncovered a diamond," she said. "If you go out into our back yard and count three houses over on either side and the four houses behind us, there are 30 kids in all, ranging in age from 9 to newborn."

Furthermore, she said, the neighbors pride themselves on the appearance of the houses and yards.

Since moving to Wiltondale two years ago, the Menefees have added a third second-floor bedroom to their now five-bedroom house, and they plan to eventually put in another bedroom and full bath. Thanks to the generous lot sizes, "there's always potential to grow," she explained.

Tim Burkett and his wife, Christy, moved from Connecticut to Wiltondale eight years ago. "I came from a small town in West Virginia," he said, "and I grew up in a very close-knit neighborhood. This has the same kind of cozy feeling."

During the past five years, the neighborhood raised about $75,000 in grant money and private donations for improvements to the playground (at one end of Sussex Road).

"We did a little bit at a time each year. And the county came through and restored the Herring Run, which runs along the backside of our neighborhood," Burkett said.

That kind of dedication among neighbors to the area is exactly what inspired the Burketts to remain in Wiltondale, even after outgrowing their house. When they first moved to their 2 1/2 -bedroom cottage, they had no children; now they have three.

"Everybody needed some space," Burkett said. They never considered moving to another neighborhood. Instead, in October, they moved 2 1/2 blocks away, to a 4-bedroom, 3-bathroom house that had an addition, an updated kitchen and finished basement.

"Our youngest son has five [neighbor] boys who are all 2 years old, as is he, and all within 100 yards," Burkett said. "It's a really neat place. It's kind of our little kept secret, but more and more people are finding out about it."

Dan Collins agrees: "You do know your neighbors. And you quickly find out about those neighbors who have kids that are your kids' ages, and those who have older kids who can baby-sit your kids. It makes it a perfect neighborhood."

Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 20 minutes

Public schools: Stoneleigh Elementary, Dumbarton Middle, Towson Senior High

Shopping: Dulaney Valley Shopping Center and Towson Town Center

ZIP code: 21286