History & Culture

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


Hampton National Historic Site today preserves the core of what was once a vast commercial, industrial, and agricultural plantation that encompassed nearly 25,000 acres at its height. Hampton is the collection of stories of the many people who came through the property including hundreds of enslaved people, indentured servants, paid laborers, and the Ridgely family, who all played a vital role in the development of the site.

The history of the Hampton estate began in 1745 when Colonel Charles Ridgely, a third generation Marylander, purchased a 1,500 acre tract of land in northern Baltimore County. Although initially a tobacco plantation, in 1761 Colonel 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 and was extracted through harsh and brutal working conditions inflicted upon the enslaved, indentured servants, and British prisoners of war. The ironworks continued to be the main basis of the family’s wealth until 1830, along with mining, marble and limestone quarries, mills, and mercantile interests. At this point Hampton transitioned to being primarily a large, Southern-style plantation incorporating fields of grains, orchards, and herds of livestock. All these activities were done by a mixed labor force: principally enslaved laborers and some paid workers both white and black. Later after emancipation in 1864, a mix of both Black and white paid workers and tenant farmers labored on the estate.

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, 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 carefully landscaped grounds, making it an island of tranquility for the Ridgely family surrounded by a sea of suffering of those forced to labor for them.

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 economically 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 including the historic mansion, gardens, several farm buildings, enslaved workers quarters, and family cemetery; all of which can be explored to learn the many stories and voices of Hampton National Historic Site.

A black and white photo of an enslaved person with a white child.

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

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

Hampton as an architectural monument

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

Hampton Collections Overview

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

Last updated: March 18, 2024

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

535 Hampton Lane
Towson, MD 21286


410-962-4290 (option 2)

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