Hampton mansion to lose superintendent Supporters worry that historic site will lose some funding

September 25, 1996|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Preservationists and historians are worried about the fate of Hampton mansion, called Towson's crown jewel and an exceptional example of 18th-century plantation life.

As its superintendent awaits a transfer, many wonder whether the historic site, which draws 40,000 visitors a year, will get the attention it deserves from the National Park Service, which runs it.

"Hampton is a real treasure. It's a remarkable piece of our heritage," said David Chase, executive director of Preservation Maryland, a statewide group. "Any diminution to the community and the resources available to Hampton is something we're very concerned about."

Preservationists and government officials rave about the elegant Georgian mansion with original furnishings, farm outbuildings and restored gardens on 50 manicured acres. But many are concerned about the park's future without an on-site superintendent.

"Past history at Hampton indicates that when there is no advocate for Hampton for funding, Hampton goes begging," wrote Carol Allen, executive director of Historic Towson Inc., to the park service.

The transfer of Hampton superintendent Bess Sherman to a park in Topeka, Kan., effective Oct. 8, comes as Cathryn D. Cook, a new general superintendent, takes over Fort McHenry and Hampton.

Cook, the on-site manager at Fort McHenry and overseeing superintendent of Hampton, said she has not decided whether to replace Sherman. The process could take several months, she added.

"One of the things I noticed when I got here was that both parks were understaffed and underfunded," said Cook, who replaced former general superintendent John W. Tyler on Sept. 3. "I'm holding everything up to the gold standard. What is best for both parks?"

Some members of Historic Hampton Inc., the mansion's fund-raising arm, are taking a noncommittal stance.

"It is our understanding that the position of [Sherman's] successor is currently under consideration," said Carroll S. Jackson, the organization's vice president.

But others, such as Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a 2nd District Republican, and his chief administrator, Karl Aumann, who sit on the group's board of directors, are keeping a close eye on the proceedings. "We've written a letter [to the park service] saying how sorry we are that Bess is leaving but also urging that the process not be delayed and that somebody good be selected," Aumann said. "We specifically did say it is important for Hampton to have an on-site supervisor."

Added Republican Towson Councilman Douglas B. Riley, who also has sent a letter to the park service, "I always thought Hampton was underused and under-publicized. Having the superintendent leave doesn't bode well for turning that around. It's never really been promoted to bring in tourists."

Still, it draws thousands of visitors annually.

"Its integrity as a historic site is exceptional," said Hampton curator Lynne Hastings. "It hasn't had a reconstruction or period furnishings. It is an original."

The park is much more than a grand stucco house with a magnificent domed cupola, preservationists say. It represents a slice of 18th- and 19th-century life that once included an ironworks, farming and hundreds of slaves and indentured servants, as well as the founding Ridgely family.

Col. Charles Ridgely, a merchant, purchased the original 1,500 acres of wilderness in 1745. The main house, called Hampton Hall at the time, was built between 1783 and 1790 and was occupied by seven generations of the affluent Ridgely family.

The 43-acre park, designated a historic site in 1948, opened to TTC the public the next year. Later, additional acreage was acquired, including racing stables and the Ridgely family cemetery.

Pub Date: 9/25/96

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