History & Culture

A painting depicting how the Hampton estate would have looked historically
A depiction of what Hampton estate would have looked like in its height as a plantation.

NPS

Hampton National Historic Site today preserves the core of what was once a vast commercial, industrial, and agricultural estate that encompassed nearly 25,000 acres at its height. Hampton is the collection of stories of the many people who came through the estate - the few who chose to be there, such as the Ridgelys (owners of the estate), the several who were there out of necessity (indentured servants and paid laborers), and the many enslaved people forced to be there. All played a vital role in the development of the estate.

The history of the Hampton estate began in 1745 when Col. Charles Ridgely, a third generation Marylander, purchased a 1,500 acre tract of land in northern Baltimore County. At first a tobacco plantation, in 1761, Col. Ridgely and his two sons established the Northampton Ironworks, which eventually provided much needed material for the American Revolution. This wartime industry created mass wealth for the Ridgelys on the labor of the enslaved, indentured servants, and British prisoners of war. The ironworks continued to be the principal basis of the family’s wealth until c. 1830. The Hampton estate grew to be a large, Southern-style plantation having planted fields of grains, orchards, and herds of livestock, along with the ironworks, mining, marble and limestone quarries, mills, and mercantile interests. All these activities were supported by enslaved and indentured laborers, and later after Emancipation, paid workers.

 
Modern day view of the Hampton mansion lit up at night.
Modern day photo of the Hampton mansion at night.

NPS/Tim Ervin

In the midst of this agricultural powerhouse, the Hampton mansion, a massive Georgian style house set on a hill that was a statement of its builder’s pride and success, was constructed. At 24,000 square feet, the house may have been the largest private residence in the United States when completed in 1790. The architectural masterpiece became a symbol of wealth and power for some, but oppression for others. The elegantly furnished mansion is set amid formal gardens and landscaped shaded grounds, truly making it an island of tranquility in the sea of labor happening around it and masking the persecution within.

Over time, the abolition of slavery, economic downturns, and division of property amongst heirs reduced the estate to 1,000 acres. By the 1920s, suburbs were encroaching and farming became increasingly less viable. The Great Depression and World War II finally led the Ridgely family to sell the house and part of the remaining property to the National Park Service in 1947. The following year, Hampton National Historic Site was established “on outstanding merits as an architectural monument” making it the first historic site of its kind in the National Park Service. This designation paved the way for the establishment of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. After much needed restoration work on the mansion was completed in 1950, the site was officially opened to the public. Today the park encompasses roughly 63 acres and includes the historic mansion, gardens, several historic farm buildings, slave quarters, and family cemetery. All of which can be explored to learn the many stories and voices of Hampton National Historic Site.

 
 
Learn the story of the people of Hampton!

People

Hampton is the story of the many different people that came through the site. Learn their stories here!

Explore the various sites of the Hampton plantation

Places

Hampton is made up of various sites within the old plantation. Explore the sites before you visit!

Hampton as an architectural monument

Architecture

Learn why Hampton is deemed to have merit as an "Architectural Monument."

Hampton Collections Overview

Collections

Artifacts, documents, paintings, and more! Explore the massive Hampton collections.

Last updated: May 9, 2020

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

535 Hampton Lane
Towson, MD 21286

Phone:

410.823.1309

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