Hampton Mansion due for makeover Campaign begins today to raise funds to restore farm, slave buildings

June 22, 1998|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

After years of battling budget deficits and flagging public interest, stately Hampton Mansion in Towson -- considered a prime example of 18th-century plantation life -- enters the next millennium with a new lease on life.

Today, as Hampton celebrates 50 years as a national park, the park's fund-raising arm is engaged in a $1.5 million capital campaign to pump money into the grand manor on Hampton Lane near the Beltway and to refurbish deteriorating farm buildings and slave quarters.

"One of the purposes of the campaign is to talk to people about Hampton," said Rhoda M. Dorsey, president of Historic Hampton Inc., which is seeking donations from foundations, corporations and other parties. "We're hoping this will stimulate interest."

Today, representatives of the National Park Service, which operates the site, and Historic Hampton will hold an invitation-only mint-julep party to toast the future.

The groups plan to focus more attention on the often-forgotten slaves, indentured servants and craftspeople who made up the self-contained village that revolved around agriculture and ironworks. Hampton was much more than a big house on the hill.

"We have a broad picture of Maryland and American life represented here," said on-site superintendent Laurie Coughlan, who came to the Hampton National Historic Site a year ago.

A portion of the capital-campaign money will go toward turning a dilapidated, pre-Revolutionary War farmhouse -- considered to be the oldest home in Baltimore County -- into a multipurpose center and to open one of three slave quarters to the public.

'Important part of Maryland'

"You have the opportunity to tell the story of the people, not just in the main house but across the street," Dorsey said. "It was a very important part of Maryland for a long time."

During Hampton's heyday, the affluent Ridgelys held court in the stucco manor called Hampton Hall that once was described as a "palace rising in the wilderness."

Sumptuous banquets were spread out in the great hall. The Marquis de Lafayette came calling. Masters sipped sherry in the domed cupola overlooking the pastoral grounds that once spread to present-day White Marsh.

But Hampton's story also includes the lives of the workers who helped build the 1780s mansion, dig the tiered gardens, work the iron forges and fields, and care for the spacious 33-room estate.

"The great manor was a place where the owners lived. Life was made possible there because of the labor and skills of those who lived on the farm property and beyond," Dorsey said. "There are few places where you've got the big house intact and a number of farm buildings."

Drawing schoolchildren

Historic Hampton and park officials, with local elected officials, are hoping the refurbished outbuildings will attract more young visitors.

"I think it is important for schoolchildren to see the historic restoration," said Republican Sen. F. Vernon Boozer, who, with Republican Del. Martha S. Klima, sought state money to save the farmhouse. "Hopefully, the restoration will increase attendance."

For the past decade, visitors to the 63-acre park have numbered about 30,000 annually, compared with 600,000 at Fort McHenry -- and a whopping 11 million at nearby Towson Town Center. Other recent woes at the park include a leaking roof at the mansion and stagnant federal funds.

In December, a broken hot-water pipe flooded the home's magnificently re-created dining room, shuttering the room while the walls dried.

The park decided not to charge a much-needed entrance fee while the room is being repaired. The admission fees had been earmarked for sprucing up the drab visitor reception area, walkways and other projects.

"We didn't feel we could charge visitors," Coughlan said. "They deserve our best."

Influx of money

But an influx of money has come to the rescue.

The National Park Service provided emergency funds to repair the dining room, which remains closed. A $750,000 grant from the county, initiated by County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, was used for work to replace the damaged roof, which was completed two weeks ago.

"There are no leaks, no cracks," said Coughlan. "It leaves us in sound condition."

The park service also increased the site's annual base operating budget this year by more than 30 percent to $556,000.

"Things have come together very nicely in the last year," Coughlan said. "It's certainly been exciting for us."

Pub Date: 6/22/98

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