Built in 1893 as a wedding gift, Mary’s Hope on Church Cove remains a symbol of love and gracious living more than 120 years later. The home was a showpiece of its time and the property was the namesake of a previous owner’s daughter. James Angel stated in his will dated May 10, 1736, that land referred to today as Mary’s Hope be bequeathed to his daughter, Mary and her heirs.
John Grey Hopkins Lilburn, an industrious planter and later a St. Mary’s County Commissioner, owned the farm known as Pleasant Valley in the late 1800s, and chose the property to create a home for his fiancée, Annie Elizabeth Thomas. Miss Thomas, a direct descendent of former Maryland governor James Thomas, was an educated lady and at the time served as principal seminarian of the St. Mary’s Female Seminary, which would later become St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
The Lilburn family lived in this spacious victorian style home, very modern by any standards, as it had such luxuries as running water and a working septic system, something quite unusual for rural St. Mary’s County at the turn of the 20th century. John Lilburn passed away in 1918, leaving the house to his wife. Mrs. Lilburn sold the property in 1919 to the family of Louis T. and Anna Hodges. The Hodges’ owned and operated a restaurant in Washington, D.C., and during the era they owned the farm, they divided their time between the city and the country. Anna Hodges husband Louis died in 1927, but she continued as owner, choosing to rent the house and farm to a tenant. It wasn’t until the end of WWII that she sold the farm to Mathias and Regina Mueller. Mr. Mueller had come to St. Mary’s County during WWII, where he worked helping to build the Navy bases at Pax River and Webster Field. Mr. Mueller, a farmer by trade, liked the area, and he looked to purchase a property where he could relocate his growing family, who were living near Annapolis, Md. He chose the Pleasant Valley farm which had been put up for sale by the Hodges family. The year was 1945. The Muellers and their 6 children, 5 girls and a boy, lived and worked the land until 1961, when the Muellers sold the farm to their 2nd oldest daughter Judy and her husband, William E. “Bill” Raley.
Bill and Judy purchased the farm and moved their family in, a family which eventually grew to include 8 children, 4 boys and 4 girls. In 1984, the Raley’s embarked on long held plans to upgrade the exterior of the home, plans which included adding an east wing and a basement garage. During these renovations, a tongue and groove pine board was discovered when Mr. Raley was removing the original front porch roof. Upon examination, the board was seen to have penciled etchings, words which told the story of the building of the house. The board listed the names of Augustine McClanahan and John Haman as the men who were building the house. They had inscribed on the board the following words, “ We will dine and sup tonight at the wedding of John Lilburn and Annie Thomas.” The men dated the event as July 26, 1893. Today the board, a time capsule of the history of the house, is proudly displayed in a glass case mounted in the “Mueller” room located to the left of the front foyer. In the midst of the construction and exterior renovations, Mr. Raley unexpectedly died, leaving the task to his wife to complete. Mrs. Raley was able to see that project through, and nearly a decade later, on the occasion of her eldest granddaughter’s wedding, she decided to restore the interior of the house to its former grandeur.
After four decades of living in the home, the Raley family decided in 2002 to turn the home into a location for social gatherings and weddings. Today, members of the family coordinate the many events that take place each year at Mary’s Hope on Church Cove, as well as maintain the beautiful grounds surrounding the house. With its idyllic waterfront setting on a point high above Church Cove, the home is graced with old growth hardwood, which frame the house as you approach from the front. Crepe myrtle, magnolia, azaleas, roses and lilacs are just some of the many flowering trees and plants found on the grounds. A gazebo overlooking the water on the northernmost projection of the property provides an excellent backdrop for weddings, pictures and special events.
The house lends a sense of stateliness to any function. The grand foyer features antique furnishings and original pine flooring. The large staircase with restored hand-carved oak newel post gives visitors their first glimpse at a bygone era. Grand windows fill the Lilburn room with natural light, which plays off the cheerful yellow walls. A cranberry light fixture hanging in the north end of the main hall is original to the home and speaks to its period of construction.
Upstairs, several bedroom suites give anxious brides and grooms-to-be a place to relax as they prepare for the festivities. Also upstairs is access to the second story balcony, which overlooks the front lawn and is a favorite place for brides to toss their bouquets. With its majestic tidewater setting and connection to Southern Maryland history, Mary’s Hope continues to remain true to John Lilburn’s original vision for the home – a place built in the name of love, as it provides a site for joy and hope to all those who gather here.