Murray Hill blends old and new in Annapolis

A dock overlooking Spa Creek is seen in Murray Hill in Annapolis, Md., a neighborhood founded in 1890 and named for the family that owned the farmland that was subdivided for development. (Michael A. McCoy for The Washington Post)
6 min

Colleen Connors and her husband watch Annapolis past and present stroll by their Tudor-style home in Murray Hill.

U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen in crisp uniforms walk to sponsors’ homes for dinner.

Docents in period costumes — women in long skirts, aprons and bonnets and men in knickers — stroll by on their way to lead tours in nearby colonial Annapolis.

Neighbors in the 21st century garb of leggings, slacks or jeans walk dogs of all sizes and sometimes stop for a chat.

“It’s really interesting. It makes it a fun place to live,” said Connors, social chair of the Murray Hill Residents Association.

Annapolis is Maryland’s capital city, with a history spanning four centuries. Residents are lured to its Murray Hill neighborhood for the charm, craftsmanship and size of the old homes as well as for the neighborhood’s convenient location and its friendly, community feel.

Murray Hill is easy walking distance to colonial Annapolis, the Banneker-Douglass Museum, the U.S. Naval Academy, restaurants, shops, live music venues, theater and marinas. Yet its streets are quiet.

Its southern border is Spa Creek, which leads to Chesapeake Bay. It meets parts of the Arts District along West Street. Some of the eastern section of Murray Hill lies in the Annapolis Historic District. Maryland Hall, which hosts plays, art exhibits, musical performances and art classes, is just west of the neighborhood.

“It feels like small-town America,” said Alex Tower Sears, a Murray Hill resident since 1996, and real estate agent with Sotheby’s.

Murray Hill was founded in 1890 and named for the family that owned the farmland that was subdivided for development. The neighborhood’s history, however, dates to 1651 when carpenter Richard Acton, was granted a survey for 100 acres that ran 250 yards on the north side of what is now known as Spa Creek, and inland.

It’s largely made up of about 800 single-family houses set back from the street, a few duplexes and townhouses and three condominium complexes. Architectural styles vary, with Victorian, Dutch Colonial and Tudor among them, plus a few mid-century and even some contemporary homes. According to “Architecture in Annapolis: A Field Guide,” by Marcia M. Miller and Orlando Ridout V, at least two homes were bought from Sears, Roebuck & Company.

Most houses were built near the turn of the 20th century to the late 1940s. The majority are two-story or three-story, single-family structures with large porches and sash windows. Oak flooring is common on the first two stories, with pine planks often found on the third floor.

Rooms in the early 20th-century houses are large, and while most houses are close together, there is room to garden. Street parking is plentiful.

“Each of these houses, if you put money in it, they just shine. They just soak it up,” Sears said.

Houses in the upscale neighborhood sell quickly, and it’s not uncommon to fetch more than the list price.

The 25 homes that sold in the last year were on the market for an average of eight days, and about a third sold above asking price, said June Steinweg, a real estate agent with Long & Foster. Sale prices ranged from $600,000 for a 3,356-square-foot townhouse to $3.3 million for a 6,215-square-foot single-family house. As of Jan. 4, there were four houses on the market, three pending sale.

Details still found on some properties hint of the neighborhood’s past, such as the two-foot granite slab in front of a home on Southgate Avenue that was once a step for getting in and out of horse-drawn carriages.

Towering sycamores, magnolias, pine and crepe myrtle trees shade lawns and houses. Small parks, maintained by residents, are tucked at the end of some streets.

Many of the newest residents are empty nesters, Sears said.

Barbara Mersereau and her husband moved to Murray Hill four years ago. They enjoyed raising their children in Bethesda, but when their children moved away and they neared retirement, they were ready for a change and a more walkable community. From their Franklin Street home, they stroll to restaurants, the drugstore, post office, shops and St. Anne’s Episcopal Church.

“We are so close to town that we walk all the time, and other people go by all the time,” Mersereau said. “There’s just a lot more interactions with your neighbors.”

Most of the original homes still stand. While teardowns have been few, additions are prevalent. Residents have added wings and additional stories or closed in parts of porches, said Robert Worden, a 50-year Murray Hill resident.

Parts of Murray Hill come under the purview of the Annapolis Historic District. Exterior changes to those houses must meet the district design and materials specifications.

The Murray Hill Residents’ Association was founded in 1982 to influence development plans to preserve the character of the neighborhood. It successfully limited the height of nearby commercial buildings, Worden, its first president, said.

Murray Hill’s oldest home is Acton Hall, a Georgian style house whose construction began around 1760.

But the neighborhood as it is known today began to take shape in the early 20th century, when municipal infrastructure was completed and the city’s professional working class began to grow, according to “Architecture in Annapolis.”

The proximity of a hospital built on Franklin Street (now a townhouse development), the County Court House location on Church Circle and an expansion of the U.S. Naval Academy attracted doctors, lawyers and academy faculty to Murray Hill. Doctors often had their medical offices in their homes, which patients entered through side doors.

“It was a wonderful place to live 75, even 100 years ago, and it remains that way today,” said former city alderman Fred Paone, who grew up in Murray Hill in the 1960s and 70s when his father taught at the Naval Academy and needed a house that could fit his large family.

Throughout its history, Murray Hill has known its share of celebrities, including Spanish-American War hero Adm. Winfield Scott Schley. Renowned navigator Philip Van Horn (P.V.H) Weems, who advised Charles Lindbergh. Weems taught neighborhood children about constellations from a pier on Spa Creek, according to a neighborhood history by the residents’ association.

Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley is among the more well-known Murray Hill residents today. A restaurateur, he had lived nearby and moved to Murray Hill when he and his wife began their family and needed more space, easy walkability and water access.

“I’m lucky enough to walk to the end of my street, get into a small boat and ride my boat into work,” Buckley said. “Not many mayors can say that.”

Schools: Annapolis Elementary, Bates Middle and Annapolis High.

Transit: Several city buses and the 220 commuter bus to Washington stop along West Street.