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Upscale community is like 'coming back to the farm'


Cooke's Hope, once an early American settlement, aims to offer those seeking refuge on the Eastern Shore an upscale neighborhood with an old-fashioned flair.

A stone marker in front of the 15-year-old community shows that Lord Baron of Baltimore gave these lush acres to Maj. Miles Cooke, a London mariner, in 1659. Through the centuries, Cooke's Hope, as it became known, was more than 1,000 acres of farmland and rolling hills.

Cooke's Hope developer Dick Firth said the land's owners, the Hunter family of Easton and the Fisher family of Chicago, tried to preserve that ancestral feel of Cooke's Hope when they laid out development plans in the mid-1980s.

They planned to build homes that modeled the quaint, historic fishing villages of nearby St. Michaels and Oxford, ones that were nestled in the Maryland landscape the forefathers cherished, Firth said.

They wanted to manage growth without spoiling Talbot County's natural resources, he said.

Today, 490 acres hold 370 houses in this modern version of Cooke's Hope, just south of Easton on Route 333.

Developers plan to build 45 more houses on 310 acres.

"We wanted to give a feeling of 'coming back to the farm,'" Firth said. "We wanted open, bucolic farmland where, all of a sudden, a village emerges."

The clusters of half-million-dollar homes and townhouses are buffered by open space - about 40 percent of the total acreage - with an environmentalist's spin.

There is no golf course in Cooke's Hope. Its owners operate a profitable cattle farm and grow corn and soybeans for the poultry industry. Nine man-made ponds are scattered through the community, and freshwater marshes were constructed by Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage to encourage new habitats for Maryland's wildlife. They accent Peachblossom Creek, which runs through Cooke's Hope.

Most of the products used in Cooke's Hope's landscaping and farming are organic, Firth said.

About five miles of the 30 planned miles of nature and walking trails have been built.

Cooke's Hope opens to the public on Oxford Road, where the cattle operation is situated. The owners raise Belted Galloways, a rare breed of cattle in this country that was imported from Scotland from about 1920 until 1989, when a British outbreak of mad cow disease stopped importation.

The pasture, buffered by woods, spills into Springfield, the first section built in Cooke's Hope. The houses range to 4,000 square feet and are on lots of up to 2 acres, Firth said.

The houses, each with a fireplace, back up to Peachblossom Creek, where a marina stocked with swans has been constructed.

In 1996, Cooke's Hope opened a section of single-family homes called The Village. The eclectic homes - where Firth lives - are patterned on an old-fashioned, Eastern Shore style.

"In this area, the architecture has some Southern influence and some Northern influence to make a very unique Eastern Shore style," said E. Dee Merriken, a broker for Peachblossom Realty, Cooke's Hope broker. "We have some Federal in Cooke's Hope, and some Colonial, some traditional farmhouses and some that are a blend of styles."

The clusters of homes - in forest green, lemonade yellow and brick red - are built on quarter- and half-acre lots in period style down to the smallest detail.

"No two houses are alike," Merriken said.

Brick sidewalks run through the cluster of houses, where the streets are named after former Cooke's Hope landowners. The neighborhood gives the impression that families still stroll to the druggist's for an ice cream soda on Sunday afternoon.

Outside The Village stands an artificial town center. The sales offices are there, alongside a vintage-style post office and the exercise room. The exercise room will triple in size over the next several years, Firth said.

In 2000, Firth broke ground on The Galloways, a subdivision of carriage-house-style townhouses. Two styles of townhouses are available in The Galloways, each with a first-floor master bedroom and den, two upstairs bedrooms, vaulted ceilings and gas fireplaces. The end units, with 2,296 square feet, offer a loft. The largest model, with 2,552 square feet, includes a breakfast room and laundry room.

Elaine Farquhar, 71, moved to The Galloways in August after she and her husband grew tired of farming in neighboring Trappe.

"We wanted to downsize, and we came here because it is lovely," she said. "You have everything you want here. The townhouses are roomy, and because the areas around us will stay open, you feel a little bit like you're living in the country."

Cooke's Hope might seem a little too rural at times. Easton has few commercial outlets - a strip mall with a McDonald's, a Food Lion grocery store, a natural-food store and, soon, a Pier 1 Imports store.

The closest mall and nightlife are about 40 minutes away, in Annapolis.

"But, hey," Firth said, "we're only an hour and a half from Washington, an hour and 10 minutes from Baltimore and three hours from New York.

"We really have the best of both worlds here."

Cooke's Hope

ZIP code: 21601, 21606

Commute to downtown Baltimore: 70 minutes

Public schools: Easton Elementary, Easton Middle, Easton High

Shopping: Annapolis Mall

Homes on market:

Average listing price: $598,000*

Average sale price: $553,500*

Average days on market: 150*

Sale price as percentage of listing price: 92.55%*Based on five sales in the past 12 months, compiled by Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.

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