From Mansion To Slave Quarters

April 24, 1993|By Melvin Durai | Melvin Durai,Contributing Writer

For many years, visitors to the Hampton National Historic Site have admired the grand old mansion that forms the centerpiece of the 60-acre national park.

Built in the 1780s, the ornate, lavishly furnished structure housed several generations of the Ridgelys, a prominent Maryland family.

Tomorrow, for the first time ever, visitors to the Towson park will be able to compare the Ridgelys' affluent lifestyle with the bare existence of their slaves.

The park is allowing people to enter or look into the slave quarters, the overseer's house, the outhouses, the family cemetery and several other buildings on the sprawling estate.

"We want to expand our portrayal of the history here," said park superintendent Alan G. Whalon. "It's a new focus on a broader look at the history."

He said that the park is trying to interest a wide variety of people and that the slave quarters represent "a very significant aspect of the history here." The buildings will be open as part of Hampton Heritage Day, an annual event that this year features exhibits and demonstrations on 18th- and 19th-century building and construction.

The Ridgely family owned as many as 312 slaves at one time. The slaves worked in the family's mills, quarries, ironworks and plantations and did the manual labor in building the mansion.

Only three slave quarters remain, two made of stone and one of logs. The log structure, which will be open to the public, is the type of shelter slaves lived in before the Civil War.

The unfinished and unadorned interior stands in sharp contrast to the intricate and elaborate designs in the Hampton Mansion.

Many of the buildings have not been open to the public before because the park does not have the money to restore, preserve or staff them, said Winona R. Peterson, chief of interpretation and visiting services.

It will cost about $2 million to restore and preserve all the buildings, said Mr. Whalon, adding that support from the community probably will be needed.

"We would like organizations to adopt a building," said Mr. Whalon. "Maybe they can pressure us into having them open."

Ms. Peterson said she would especially like community help to restore the slave quarters. "It's very hard to find intact slave quarters," she said.

Paula Dozier, public relations director at the Maryland Historical Society, said opening the slave quarters would provide a more accurate portrayal of history.

"If you want to get the truth across, you have to show all sides of it," she said, noting the new focus on multiculturalism in history. "It's difficult to focus on multiculturalism without looking at the impact of slavery."

This fall, as part of the curriculum for fourth- and eighth-graders in Baltimore County schools, the park will give tours through many of the closed buildings, including the slave quarters.


The buildings at the Hampton National Historic Site in Towson will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow as part of Hampton Heritage Day. The park is on Hampton Lane off Dulaney Valley Road, Exit 27B from the Baltimore Beltway. Donations for restoring a designated building can be mailed to: Hampton National Historic Site, 535 Hampton Lane, Towson, Md. 21286. Information: 962-0688.

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