Monday, October 23, 2017

Hampton National Historic Site House and Garden

The mansion house at Hampton (in Towson, Maryland, just north of Baltimore) was built from 1783 to 1790 by Captain Charles Ridgely. He had supplied the American revolutionaries with iron implements, arms, and ammunition through the family's iron works. He became quite wealthy and wanted to show it with a large Georgian mansion. The building has the classic symmetrical design--smaller wings on each side connected by hallways or "hyphens." Capt. Charles died the year the mansion was completed and so never lived in it. He died without issue so the house went to his nephew Charles Carnan Ridgely, who moved in immediately and within a year his first son, John, is born there. The house was owned by six generations of Ridgelys. It became increasingly more difficult to maintain the mansion and it was eventually sold to a trust that donated it to the National Parks Service, which manages the house and approximately sixty acres of land.

Hampton house

We went to visit the house on a school holiday and had the early morning tour mostly to ourselves. We had fun though the toddler occasionally laid down on the floor--not so much in protest as in boredom. He didn't complain, so that was good.

Approaching from the side

Visitor entrance in back (into one of the hyphens!)

After a video overview of the house, we went in to the music room, one of many designed for entertaining and impressing. The portrait over the fireplace is Charles Carnan Ridgely, nephew of the builder of the house. The harp is famous since it was played by Eliza Ridgely, Charles's daughter-in-law. Her portrait (which included the harp) was painted by Thomas Sully and remained in the house until the 1900s.

Music room

Charles Carnan Ridgely, second owner

The famous harp

A spot for relaxing (or saluting, if you are a toddler)

Out in the main hall is a copy of Lady with a Harp, the famous portrait. The portrait stayed in the family until the 1940s, when John Ridgely, Jr., sold it to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. When the gallerist came to pick it up, he noticed the run down condition of the house and the architectural fineness of its construction. He helped to have the mansion and estate designated a national historic site, enabling renovations and the first tours in the late 1940s. The Ridgelys moved into the Lower House, the original residence of Captain Charles back in the late 1700s.  

The central hall

Over the doors

Copy of Lady with a Harp

At the front of the hall is the parlor, where guests would be entertained during the day. Business was sometimes conducted there so a desk is present as well.


Work desk and clock

On the south side of the hall is the formal dining room, set for the after-dessert course of fruit. The table includes lemons, oranges, and pineapples, which were definitely a delicacy since they weren't readily available in Maryland. The estate does include a greenhouse called the "Orangery" where they grew the more tropical plants. The wallpaper is a copy of the original, hand-painted paper that depicts monuments of Paris.

Dining room

Close-up of side board and fancy wallpaper

The front drawing room was the typical place for the ladies to gather after dinner (the men would stay in the dining room or head outside). The large and impressive set of Baltimore-made hand-painted furniture with red coverings were bought by Eliza (she of the portrait) and her husband John in 1832. They wouldn't have kept the whole set there but since the National Park Service owns the whole set, they are showing off a bit!

Drawing room with 1830s furniture

A snack table?

More classy furniture

On the second floor are the bedrooms, both for residents and guests. The first room we toured was set for one of the daughters, though the youngest children would be up on the third floor. They have strong legs to make it that far and their noise would not travel back down to the formal, first floor rooms.

Daughter's bedroom

The master bedroom is quite large and ostentatious as well. One of the wives had fourteen children in the house! With the inclusion of bed rest, you can imagine she spent a great deal of time here. When her friends came to visit, they'd have to come upstairs, so the family wanted to keep up wealthy appearances. The paint is the same as from the dining room, an expensive blue color.

Master bedroom

Next door is a guest bedroom.

Guest bedroom

The third floor and cupola were not part of the tour, so we headed back downstairs to the kitchen. Along the way we saw the servants' bells that were hooked up to various rooms in the house. One is still set up and the docent pulled the bell for us.


Down the hall is the kitchen where food was prepared for guests, sometimes as many as two hundred. It doesn't look very large but does have many amenities, including an in-wall oven and two spots for soup/stew/sauce to be cooked.

Kitchen with fake food

Soup cookers and oven

The south lawn leads down to the Parterres, the formal gardens of the house. Our children loved to explore them.

Formal garden

More colorful formal garden

My son ran down to be in the picture

Here he is, a little more visible

Exploring the gardens

In the next post, we'll see some of the outlying buildings including the dairy and the slaves' (later the workers') quarters.

Checking the map for more things to see

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