Hamlet in Harford has all the essentials

Neighborhood profile: Darlington

Residents like close-knit rural town where Main St. thrives without a stop light

August 11, 2002|By Tim Swift | Tim Swift,SUN STAFF

When Jane Howe arrived in Darlington in 1993, she moved into what she calls her dream home - a 19th-century stone Victorian amid rural fields - but the previous owner left more than the house.

"At the settlement, she had this book in her hand and said, `Take care of this,'" Howe said.

The book was a leather-bound tome detailing the history of the property, dating to the original deed to the land from the king of England. The owner had even saved the blueprints to the house.

As she unrolled the plans, Howe found that in more than 100 years her dream house, like Darlington, had changed little. And most of the residents of this Harford County hamlet like it that way.

"A little historic village is what we are, and we fight daily to keep it that way," said Joni Nugent, a Darlington resident since 1995.

Nugent and Howe are members of the close-knit community association that has been working to preserve Darlington's rural heritage since the mid-1990s. As suburban sprawl crept into other rural enclaves in the region, residents - without a mayor or other local representation - knew they needed a voice.

"Most people here still make their money on the land," Howe said. "But there is a lot of pressure for these farmers to sell."

Nestled between the Susquehanna River and Deer Creek, Darlington was founded in the mid-1700s by Quakers from a town of the same name in Northern England.

Modeled on their original church, the Deer Creek Friends Meeting House still stands today and is on the National Register of Historic Places along with the town's historic district.

With about 750 residents, Darlington is so small that the town doesn't have a stop light. Yet on Main Street, the downtown bustles with the essentials: a bank, a doctor, a country store, two auto mechanics and a public library.

Many of the homes such as Howe's, with gingerbread trim, date from the 19th century and have been painstakingly restored to their original glory. Howe compared her house to an elegant old lady in need of a face lift. Work continues, she says.

Others are less ornate but solid, with sloping slate roofs and stone quarried from nearby Port Deposit. Newer homes such as brick ranchers are interspersed amid the rolling hills and the array of stately hickories, oaks and sycamores.

Apple fest draws crowd

As old and distinguished as the houses, about five churches call Darlington home.

"We're a God-fearing people," Howe said with a laugh.

Each October the churches join to hold the town's annual apple festival - purported to be the largest single-day event in Harford County. With its famous Presbyterian Chili and Hosanna Church pies, the festival draws about 50,000 visitors from the surrounding areas.

Connie Beims lives just outside Darlington but comes into town for the post office, the H.C. Scarborough Grocery Store, and to get the latest gossip.

"It's wonderful to live in a place where the postmaster knows your name," Beims said of the town. "And sometimes you spend an hour at the post office because you meet so many people you know there.

"Everybody knows each other. It really hearkens back to another day. You always get a wave and smile."

Beims notes that while the town is small, it is also diverse. Some of the residents are descendants of freed slaves who became farmers in Darlington, which was a frequent stop on the Underground Railroad.

Today, farmers grow corn and soybeans, and raise pigs and horses. In fact, it was a horse that put Darlington in the news only a few months ago.

In a shrewd investment move, Audrey and Allen Murray of Murmur Farm bought Our Emblem, the sire of War Emblem, in the fall, before the offspring won this year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. After eight months, they sold the sire to a partnership of two Kentucky horse farms for a profitable $10.1 million.

True to Darlington's close-knit reputation, many in town have known the couple for years.

"Couldn't have happened to better people," Beims said.

Farms are preserved

Bolstered by its prestigious horse farms, Darlington boasts one of the largest blocks of preserved agricultural land in Harford County.

A seventh-generation farmer, Henry Holloway, 69, still wakes up early in the morning to tend to the fields, and in the summer and fall sometimes finishes work past twilight. His family raises cattle and grows grain and hay on about 900 acres. The lifelong resident hopes Darlington can stay a rural community, but he understands its growing appeal.

"I know other people are going to like it as much as I do," he said wistfully.

Relative newcomers such as Howe know what Holloway is talking about. While they say they aren't anti-growth, the residents strive to maintain the town's rural beauty.

"We chose Darlington because of its rural charm," Howe said. "We are part of downtown Darlington, but we've got cows in the back yard."

Darlington

ZIP code: 21034

Commute to downtown Baltimore: 60 minutes

Public schools: Darlington Elementary School; Havre de Grace Middle School; Havre de Grace High School

Shopping: H.C. Scarborough Grocery Store, Klein's Super Market in Aberdeen, Food Lion in Bel Air

Homes on market: 6

Average listing price: $149,500

Average sales price: $140,000

Average days on market: 77

Sales price as percentage of listing price: 93.65%*

*Based on 12 sales during the past 12 months, compiled by Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.

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