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Lifestyle Home & Garden

The finalists: Burleigh Manor, Jericho Farm, Walnut Grove

Burleigh Manor, Ellicott City

Not all the current residents of Burleigh Manor in Ellicott City appreciate the rich history and the meticulous restoration of this 1810 Federal-style brick home.

That's because the inhabitants include horses, donkeys, pigs, chickens and a blind mule.

Lawrence Cheskin, director of the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center, and his wife, Lisa Davis, bought the home, built by Revolutionary War Col. Rezin Hammond, in the summer of 2012 and began to convert the grounds and outbuildings into an animal sanctuary. Since then, they have taken in as many animals as they can handle, rescuing them from abuse or euthanasia.

"I probably should have been a vet," said Davis, who was a physician's assistant to an internist and has a doctorate in the neuroscience of obesity. She now works as a nutrition consultant.

The couple and their 12-year-old daughter, Libby, rely on Davis' father, Eddie, to manage the house and grounds, and they care for the animals, including feeding them twice a day. "It's a lot," Davis said. "I'm not going to lie."

A history buff, her father lives on the property and has researched the rich past of the house, dating back to the time when the property was so expansive that it joined property owned by the colonel's brother, Matthias Hammond, in Annapolis. A wealthy farmer, he was the owner of the Hammond-Harwood House in the state capital.

It was Libby who commissioned her grandfather to build a small fence around five graves, dating from 1882, in a cedar grove on the property.

"She didn't think it was very respectful to having people walking on them," said the elder Davis.

Perhaps the most charming aspect of the house is its center hall. On the summer solstice, the rising sun shines directly through the fanlight windows over the front door and the setting sun gleams through the windows at the other end. Everywhere there is dentil molding in the shape of an 'H' for Hammond.

Speaking of sun, Burleigh Manor is officially off the grid. Solar panels stand like bleachers around the corral where the rescued horses graze.

Jericho Farm, Kingsville

The slaves traveling the Underground Railroad to freedom in the North knew they were safe when they crept into the basement beneath Jericho Farm and felt the notch in the stone wall at the bottom of the steps. It was how they knew they had come to the right house.

Elisha Tyson built this house for the manager of the mills he developed on Little Gunpowder Falls, called Jerusalem Mills, near Kingsville in the 1770s. All the buildings were made from the stones taken from the riverbed and quarries nearby.

Tyson was a Quaker and an ardent abolitionist who is believed to be responsible for the freedom of thousands of slaves and free blacks.

The house would also be a haven for cousin Moses Sheppard, whose fortune would found Sheppard-Pratt Hospital. He returned there from Canada, with Tyson's sponsorship, after the Revolutionary War where he had fled as a Tory. Margaret Johns, great-grandmother of Johns Hopkins, was an aunt.

In 1850, William Unkart took over the farm and began raising crops. It has been in the family since. Owner Scott McBride, who grew up here and raised his family here, remembers the three-seat outhouse he used as a child and his grandmother's first-ever trip to a grocery store — the farm had been self-sufficient for 100 years.

McBride, a principal in Hollander, Cohen & McBride Marketing Research, has continued to preserve and restore the buildings, as well as the farm's place in the history of the industrialization of Baltimore County and the abolition movement.

Walnut Grove Farm, Essex

The house that is now known as Walnut Grove was built in 1860 by a man who made his fortune manufacturing ammunition and who wanted to show off his newfound wealth.

Suzanne and Steve Maddox, who bought the house in 2000 and meticulously restored it, would eventually scrape down the walls to the ostentatious red and green paint — colors that were originally chosen because of their expense.

But the first thing they had to do was remove the black walnut tree that had fallen through the roof of the annex — hence the name Walnut Grove. And they had to clean the decades of dirt from the center hall, which divided the house for two warring factions of the Kellner family, who operated it as a farm.

"The kids who grew up here slept five to a room," said Suzanne Maddox. "They still live in the area and they've come back here." She left undisturbed their graffiti — names and dates written on the inside of closet doors.

The house was unoccupied for a quarter of a century when the Maddox family, which includes children Sam, 25, Anna, 19, and Isaac, 13, bought it. There wasn't a kitchen, just a root cellar and a wood stove. Squatters had been camping in the house for years, as had all kinds of creatures.

And that fallen walnut tree? Steve Maddox used his skills to fashion the wood into mantel pieces for the home's many fireplaces.

sreimer@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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