Smack in the middle of an Ellicott City housing development is a surprise. A sign at the head of a long driveway signals what lies ahead: "Burleigh Circa 1810."

Two rows of tall trees stand along the drive that bisects a large chunk of gently graded land — approximately 10 1/2 acres. White wooden fences are like large playpens for the horses, pigs and lambs, some of them checking out approaching visitors.

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At the driveway's end is the majestic manor house called Burleigh. It was constructed in the very early years of the 19th century — the exact date is unknown — on a vast estate settled in 1796 as Hammond's Inheritance. Col. Rezin Hammond likely built the home, adorned in part with Flemish-bond brick in the Federal style of the period. The estate was parceled and passed down within the family until the early 20th century and has since belonged to various owners.

Its current owner and occupant, Dr. Larry Cheskin, (who maintains that the house was built in 1802) welcomes guests into a central hall beyond massive double doors crowned with a Palladian window. Inside, an identical set of double doors is seen at the opposite end of the hall. A closer look at the wooden spokes of the windows reveals a carved rising sun at one end and carved setting sun at the other.

Cheskin, who heads the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center, and his wife, Lisa Davis, purchased the property in June 2012 for $1.87 million. For that amount, they received the mansion, which was in pristine condition, a cottage (the estate's former gatehouse) and several outbuildings. The property also includes a pool, bathhouse and tennis court dating to the first decades of the 20th century.

"We were looking for a place to establish an animal sanctuary in honor of Davis' mother, who had died recently and was a horse and animal lover," Cheskin said. "It was perfect, had already been restored and was available immediately."

So in addition to finding their ideal home, they also got the perfect space to start Burleigh Manor Animal Sanctuary and Eco-Retreat, a haven for unwanted, neglected or abused farm animals. Davis, a former vice president of science and clinical affairs for Medifast, runs the sanctuary with help from Cheskin and her father, Ed Davis, who lives in a cottage on the grounds. There is also a three-stall stable with office and meeting space above it that are available for rent. The rest of the animals, which include mules, donkeys, rabbits and pigs, are housed in recently built run-in sheds.

While the grounds serve as home for the animals, the main house provides an elegant living space for the humans.

"This was a showpiece home," said Cheskin, referring to Burleigh's interior architectural embellishments. The main floor of the 6,000-square-foot mansion has Federal-period features such as elaborately carved mantels for the fireplaces (there are eight in the house), intricate moldings around the doors and windows, 12-foot ceilings, and large living and reception rooms off the main hallway. In addition, all of the wood floors are original to the house.

The second and third levels are dominated by spacious halls, off which are the bedrooms and bathrooms.

The first-floor parlor-living room is, according to Cheskin, "the most beautiful" with "the most elaborately detailed woodwork, moldings and fireplace in the house."

A pair of traditional beige sofas face each other perpendicular to the fireplace. A large oil painting of guests arriving at a 19th-century ballroom hangs over the mantel, which has been decorated with a lighted garland. Chair rails, the paneling below them and multiple layers of ceiling molding are all painted in cream, accenting the taupe walls. The deep window frames house brown and cream Roman shades, but not a bit of elaborate wood carving is covered.

Across the hall in the northeast corner of the home, the dining room features as its centerpiece a circular mahogany dining table, 7 feet in diameter with a matching Lazy Susan. This piece of furniture came with the home. Terra cotta-colored wallpaper with gold medallions adorns the walls above the chair rails and almost matches the backs of the upholstered chairs.

At the rear of the home's main section sits a graceful staircase. A tri-sectional, period-style breakfront cabinet features inlaid wood and glass doors in its upper portion, behind which pieces of crystal, porcelain jars and painted china plates are displayed.

A two-story wing on the north side of the main level contains a den and kitchen. These two areas are slated for major restoration.

"While just about all of the main house, including wood floors, is original, the kitchen was at some point converted from a large room with a massive central-cooking fireplace into a more modern space, with tile floors laid over the original wood," Cheskin said. "The room [was] divided into two spaces, the fireplace area becoming a family room, separated by a wall from the rest of the kitchen. We are in the process of getting bids to return the kitchen to one large space, with the fireplace still there, waiting to be restored to its central role."

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That project will complete the mansion's return to the showpiece that once reflected the position and wealth of the Hammond family. And while that last bit of work is being completed, the home's current family, which includes Cheskin and Davis' 13-year-old daughter, Libby, will continue to enjoy, and work on, the last bit of Hammond's Inheritance.

"We have found our forever home and have since made it the forever home for a number of abandoned and neglected animals," Cheskin said.

Have you found your dream home? Tell us about it. Send an email to homes@baltsun.com.

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