Monkton savors traditions while the world changes


It's boom time in paradise, and no one wants to leave

December 14, 2003|By Adele Evans | Adele Evans,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Lovisah Perdue Cockey and her husband, Joshua Hutchins Cockey III, can trace their roots back 250-plus years to ancestors who first settled in the area known as Monkton.

Lovisah Cockey was born on her family's farm and now lives across the street on 10 acres. Joshua Cockey, a retired high school teacher, was born in Monkton's general store, which now is the Manor Tavern restaurant.

Both grew up in Monkton, worked on farms, met at church - and have spent nearly all of their 64 years of their marriage there. They have no plans to leave.

"We've always lived here," Lovisah Cockey said.

Ask Monkton residents what keeps them here and three things come up again and again: family roots, history and pastoral atmosphere.

It must be a good recipe because it has made Monkton one of Maryland's priciest ZIP codes. Situated in northern Baltimore County off Jarrettsville Pike, Monkton has average home prices that hover in the $500,000 range and sometimes slide into the millions. A handful of subdivisions are being built with homes as large as 4,000 square feet fetching prices of $500,000 to $750,000, said Rick Ray, an agent with Long & Foster Real Estate Inc., who sells homes in the area.

The area is growing, and neighborhood leaders keep monitoring development, vowing to protect the area's open space. Monkton's population grew 14 percent from 1990, to 5,118 people, according to Census figures.

"I can go anywhere and see people who were part of my life as a child," said Amy Wood, another multigeneration resident. "I grew up here; I was married here, and hope to be buried here."

Every inch of Monkton contains rural atmosphere and history: the churches, the old, stone homes and the farms. The horse pastures have been the settings for hunts, races and competitions for generations. St. James Church has graves dating to the Civil and Revolutionary wars. George Washington is said to have passed through and visited a watering hole called Slade's Tavern, once across the street from Manor Tavern. Today, a Victorian home stands on the Slade's property. It's scheduled to become a bed and breakfast.

Much of Monkton sits on a historic 10,000-acre tract called My Lady's Manor. The manor was a gift in 1713 from Charles Calvert, the third Lord Baltimore, to his fourth wife, Margaret Charlton. Eventually, the land was divided into small farms and rented to farmers. At her death, Margaret Charlton left the land to Charles' granddaughter, Charlotte Calvert. A town grew, named Charlotte Town. Built around a water-powered grist mill, the village continued to thrive because of that available source of power.

During the Revolutionary War, the state confiscated all property belonging to the English crown, including My Lady's Manor. Farms were sold in 1782 to the former renters and to soldiers. Robert Cummins, a wealthy miller in the area, renamed the town Monckton after a town in Nova Scotia. The "c" was dropped about 1900.

Although the land no longer belongs to the crown, residents of Monkton are proud of the heritage and fight to preserve it. The original manor land has been designated a historic district and has strict development limits.

During the later 19th century, Monkton became a station on the Baltimore and Susquehanna rail line - later the Northern Central Railroad. Now that station is a popular stop along the county's "Bike and Hike Trail."

St. James Church is a community nerve center, with 90 acres in the heart of Monkton. Built about 1750, the church is a living history of wars, births and deaths. The church still plays host to dances, community meetings, socials and hunts. Every Thanksgiving, St. James plays host to the "Blessing of the Hunt," to bless hunters and hounds just before the annual fox hunt of the Elkridge-Harford Hunt Club.

Joshua and Lovisah Cockey were married there.

"We have the 'manor families' that have been here for 200 years or more; we have the 'newcomers' who've been here only 40 to 50 years, and then the 'really newcomers,' who are the new families to the area with the children," said the Rev. Nathan J.A. Humphrey, St. James' curate.

But can Monkton hold on to its rural flavor during this housing boom? Neighboring areas, such as Jacksonville - and even areas farther out, such as Parkton - are experiencing tidal waves of growth. Many Monkton residents say the area already is overbuilt. Several land-conservancy programs are available to those with large parcels of farmland as an alternative to selling off small parcels to developers.

"In a changing world, I'm glad there's a tradition to hold on to," said Nancy Young, who is Amy Wood's mother and the founder of the Manor Area Association, which has fought many battles over the years to control development.

"It's worth it to keep some semblance of the past. We have no right to say no development - but we do want them to do it properly."

"People move in and out, but the most common thing I hear is "We've never found a place more beautiful,'" said Dianne Fowler, spokeswoman for St. James Academy, the parish school for St. James Church.

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