Yesterday's decision to charge fees at Hampton National Historic Site in Towson and the naming of a new superintendent at the park this week could bring relief to the troubled Georgian estate beset by budget deficits, leaking roofs and deteriorating outbuildings.
Effective in May, the National Park Service will charge visitors $5 to tour the mansion, the first fee in the mansion's history. The service also has picked an on-site manager to guide the park, on Hampton Lane near Dulaney Valley Road and the Beltway, through its financial woes.
At the end of the month, Laurie E. Coughlan, a management assistant at Gettysburg National Military Park, will become on-site superintendent, a post vacated by former Superintendent Bess Sherman in October.
Coughlan was temporary manager of Hampton after Sherman left but Coughlan returned to Gettysburg in December, leaving the job vacant.
"Laurie did far more than keep the chair warm for the permanent superintendent -- work got done," said Kathryn D. Cook, general superintendent of Hampton and Fort McHenry National Monument. "The initiative she showed during her detail, combined with her National Park Service background, made her the right person for the job."
Coughlan comes on board at a time when the park is poised for change, as the fees go into effect for the mansion, which attracts about 30,000 visitors annually.
Adults will pay $5 for a guided tour of the 18th-century Georgian mansion, with discounted rates for children and seniors. The public still will have free access to the 63-acre grounds.
Cook said the majority of the funds would benefit Hampton, which has operated at a deficit for several years and, in the past, relied on funds from Fort McHenry, its sister park.
Park officials were hoping to add $77,000 this year to the park's $422,000 budget. But the increase was not in the federal budget sent to Congress last month.
"We were really disappointed about Hampton," Cook said, although she is holding out hope that a $266,000 increase for Fort McHenry will pass through Congress to boost its budget to $1.7 million.
A fee increase for Fort McHenry also was approved yesterday. In May, admission will be raised from $2 to $5, Cook said.
Historic Hampton Inc., the mansion's fund-raising arm, also discussed initiatives at a Monday meeting, member Ron E. Porterfield said.
The nonprofit organization, headed by former Goucher president Rhoda Dorsey, is looking at ways to increase membership in the group, recruit more people to work at the mansion and ways to resolve problems at Hampton.
One of the needs is replacement of the leaking roofs at the mansion and a nearby farmhouse, the cost of which has been estimated at $1.5 million.
"We aren't in imminent danger of the roof caving in," Cook said. "But we're excited we're getting so much support to get something done about this."
The hiring of a Hampton superintendent has brought optimism to preservationists who worried about the fate of the stucco, cream-colored mansion. Hampton housed six generations of the well-to-do Ridgely family and represents a prime example of plantation and industrial life in the 18th and 19th centuries.
"Having an on-site superintendent is important for the future well-being of the park," said Judith S. Kremen, executive director of the Baltimore County Historical Trust, adding that the fees also should benefit the park.
Pub Date: 3/13/97