Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Hampton Mansion 1790 Towson, Maryland part one

Hampton Mansion 1790

If I had to choose the top 10 Historic House museums in America Hampton Mansion would be on my list. It's not hard to see why after you view the photo's.  This house has a lot going for it.
Hampton Mansion is one of those few American homes that have a true 200 year lived in look with a fine collection of family antiques. This is as close as you get to American aristocracy! Hampton Mansion built in 1790 is a vast American Georgian estate including a five part Palladian plan Georgian style manor house, antique gardens, grounds, and the original stone slave quarters. The 10,000 acres estate was owned by the Ridgely family for seven generations, from 1745 to 1948. The Hampton Mansion was the largest private home in America when it was completed in 1790 and today is considered to be one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in the U.S. together with the estate's slave quarters and other preserved structures, provide insight into the life of late 18th-century and early 19th-century landowning aristocracy. Hampton was the first site selected as a National Historical Site for its architectural significance by the U.S. National Park Service.The grounds were widely admired in the 19th century for their elaborate parterres or formal gardens, which have been restored to resemble their appearance during the 1820s. Several trees are more than 200 years old.

In 1783, Capt. Ridgely began construction of the main house, Hampton Mansion. He said its concept was inspired by Castle Howard in England, owned by relatives of his mother. When it was completed in 1790, the Hampton Mansion was the largest private home in the United States. When Capt. Ridgely died that same year, his nephew, Charles Carnan Ridgely (1760–1829), became the second master of Hampton.He had 10,590 feet (3,228 m) of irrigation pipes laid in 1799 from a nearby spring to provide water to the Mansion and the surrounding gardens, which he was extensively developing. Prominent artisans of the time were hired to design geometric formal gardens, which were planted on the Mansion's grounds between 1799 and 1801. An avid horseman, Charles Carnan also began raising Thoroughbred horses at Hampton, where he had a racetrack installed. A 1799 advertisement promoted the stud services of his racehorse, Grey Medley. Another of Ridgely's racehorses, Post Boy, won the Washington City Jockey Club cup.

Neoclassical style; 1805

Philadelphia; Samuel Williamson
Hampton’s second master Charles Carnan Ridgely was said in his day to be “very famous for race horses.” His most celebrated horse was Post Boy, who won the prestigious Washington Jockey Club race three years running in 1804, 1805, and 1806. This splendid silver trophy, awarded for Post Boy’s 1805 win, is engraved with his portrait.

Under Charles Carnan Ridgely, Hampton reached its peak of 25,000 acres (10,117 ha) in the 1820s. The mansion overlooked a grand estate of orchards, ironworks, coal mining, marble quarries, mills, and mercantile interests. The vast farm produced corn, beef cattle, dairy products, hogs, and horses. More than 300 slaves worked the fields and served the household, making Hampton one of Maryland's largest slaveholding estates. Six parterres were designed on three terraced levels facing the mansion, planted with roses, peonies, and seasonal flowers. In 1820, an orangery was built on the grounds.

Charles Carnan Ridgely frequently entertained prominent guests in the Mansion's 51 ft. x 21 ft. (16 m by 6.4 m) Great Hall the largest room in a house at the time the home was built, such as Charles Carroll of Carrollton, who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence for Maryland, and Revolutionary War general, the Marquis de Lafayette. Charles Carnan served as governor of Maryland between 1816–19. When Governor Ridgely died in 1829, he freed Hampton's slaves in his will. The Hampton estate was split among various heirs, with his son, John Carnan Ridgely (1790–1867), inheriting the mansion and 4,500 acres. The ironworks closed and thereafter the Ridgelys' income was primarily derived from farming, investments, and their stone quarries. John Carnan added plumbing, heating, and gas lighting to the mansion.

Eliza Ridgely (1803–67), his wife and the subject of Thomas Sully's famous portrait, Lady with a Harp, purchased many artworks and furnishings for the mansion. She was a noted horticulturist and had successively larger and more elaborate gardens cultivated on the grounds, with a large variety of flowers and shrubs grown in the estate's greenhouses and tended by some of the 60 slaves purchased by John Carnan Ridgely. By the mid-19th century, the Hampton estate had one of the most extensive collections of citrus trees in the U.S., along with various exotic trees and plants gathered by Eliza Ridgely during her frequent travels to Europe and the Orient. In the warm months, the potted citrus plants were brought outside and arranged around the terraced gardens, then taken into the heated orangery during the winter. She had one section of the garden planted with colorful red, yellow, pink, and maroon coleus from Asia. In 1859, Hampton's fame for lavish style was such that the author of a book on landscaping wrote, "It has been truly said of Hampton that it expresses more grandeur than any other place in America".
Lady with a Harp, portrait of Eliza Ridgely by Thomas Sully, 1818

Eliza's Harp Regency style; 1818 London; Sebastian Erard

This harp was ordered from London for Eliza Eichelberger Ridgely by her father, Nicholas Greenbury Ridgely, on June 26, 1817. She brought it with her to Hampton when she married John Ridgely in 1828. It was in the Music Room from then into the early 20th century. The harp seen in Eliza’s famous portrait by Thomas Sully is not this one but an artist’s studio prop.


Successive generations of the Ridgely family at Hampton bought quantities of the finest furniture to fill the large Mansion. Surviving furnishings are extensive and cover all periods of occupancy of the house, from the Revolution to the early 20th century.

Most of the furniture was made in Baltimore, a city famous for the high quality and sophistication of its cabinetmaking. Others were made in other American cities and in England. There is also a small but significant group of Chinese exportware, pieces made in China for the export trade in the 19th century. These feature surfaces embellished with intricate lacquer work and gilding.

The furniture on view here is arranged by style and date, beginning with a few rare examples in the Chippendale style from the late 18th century. The more numerous pieces in the Federal (or Early Neoclassical) style are grouped to show objects suitable for a Parlor and a Bedchamber. The Late Neoclassical or Empire style examples are grouped as Dining Room and Drawing Room furnishings. Both the Federal and Empire styles show the inspiration of designs from classical antiquity, as filtered through England and France. Hampton's collection has Late Neoclassical pieces, many acquired by Charles Carnan Ridgely around the time of a major renovation of the Dining Room in the eighteen teens.

The Mansion includes Neoclassical style furnishings with painted surfaces. Painted or "fancy" furniture was in vogue in the U.S. for four decades in the early 19th century. Hampton's collection has some of the finest painted furniture surviving in America, especially the documented work of John Finlay. This Baltimore craftsman, renowned for making furniture for the White House in 1809, was patronized by two generations of Ridgelys.

Great Hall

The Great Hall at the center of the main block of Hampton mansion is an extraordinary space measuring 51 feet by 21 feet.
Sometimes referred to as the soul of the house, it has served many purposes over the years, from religious services to large dinner parties, children's games to debutant balls, weddings to funerals.
Family portraits are massed on the walls, including a copy of Thomas Sully's famous 1818 depiction of the beautiful young Eliza Ridgely, "Lady with a Harp." Other pictures, including large 18th century Italian landscapes, were purchased by the Ridgelys during their Grand Tours of Europe. Although somewhat more sparsely furnished today than in the historic period, the Great Hall encapsulates the history of Hampton and generations of the Ridgely family.  
Settee Federal style, 1800-1815 Baltimore

This settee is part of a large and important suite of Baltimore-made painted furniture originally owned by Governor John Eager Howard of Maryland. Gov. Howard and Gov. Charles Carnan Ridgely were closely associated in public and private life. Two of Gov. Howard’s sons married two of Gov. Ridgely’s daughters. After Gov. Howard died in 1827, Gov. Ridgely attended his estate sale, purchasing the set of “15 Yellow and Gilt cane bottom arm chairs, 2 sofas & 3 window seats to match…” for $51.00. This set had been one of three large suites of painted furniture in use at Belvidere, Gov. Howard’s estate. It is distinctive in that the floral bouquets on the crest rails, rail seat rails, and strectchers are all different.

Armchair (one of a pair) Early Neoclassical (Sheraton) style, 1790-1810

England/Baltimore; repainting attributed to John and Hugh Finlay

Painted furniture was popular at Hampton from the time Charles Carnan Ridgely (1760-1829) purchased a suite of white and gilt painted seating furniture in New York in 1797. Around the same time, he also acquired a set of painted armchairs of English manufacture, two of which survive in the Hampton collection. Governor Ridgely had the chairs repainted within a decade or two of their manufacture. The design of this second layer of paint clearly indicates that the repainting was done in Baltimore, probably by the firm of John and Hugh Finlay, who were to be long-term suppliers of “fancy” furniture, as it was then called, to the Ridgely family.
Notably, one of the chairs has a view of Hampton painted on its crest rail. Later in the 19th century when this style of painted furniture had become unfashionable, Margaretta Ridgely (1824-1904) had the chair’s legs cut down and the frame upholstered and slip covered. In this state, the chair was used in both the Great Hall and the Music Room, as shown by historic photographs.

Chandelier Neoclassical style; 1790-1810 Ireland
This magnificent chandelier and its mate once hung in Lord Rothschild’s mansion in London. The pair were given to Hampton at the time of the site’s opening to the public in 1950 by Ailsa Mellon Bruce. Her Avallon Foundation had purchased Hampton from the Ridgely family and presented the mansion and grounds as a gift to the National Park Service in 1948.

"Love Dominating the World" (William H. Buckler) c. 1868

By Pasquale Romanelli
The head of the allegorical figure of Love is a portrait of Little Willie Buckler (1867-1953), the son of Eliza "Didy" Ridgely White Buckler (1828-1894) and her second husband Dr. Thomas Hepburn Buckler (1812-1901). Although originally believed to by American expatriate sculptor William H Rinehart, Willie himself said that it was sculpted “…in Italy by Romanelli.” The Florentine sculptor Pasquale Romanelli (1822-1887) had earlier completed portraits of Willie’s older half-brothers Henry and Julian White

Stained Glass Window 1856 made in Baltimore; by Herman T. Gernhardt
When John and Eliza Ridgely had stained glass windows installed in the Great Hall in 1856, they also added custom-made fan lights depicting the Ridgely coat of arms and stag’s head crest. In the next generation, their daughter-in-law Margaretta Howard Ridgely paid local cabinetmaker, sculptor, and woodcarver William Tuebner $30.00 for “Carving a Staghead & Shield.”


Hampton's Parlour is furnished to the earliest period of Ridgely family occupancy (1790-1810).
With its early date and less formal style, the Parlour provides visual and cultural contrast to the later, more ornate rooms. During the Federal era, the Parlour functioned much as a sitting or family room does today.
The Parlour reflects the tastes and lifestyle of Governor Charles Carnan Ridgely (1760-1829), and his wife Priscilla Hill Dorsey (1762-1814). As Mrs. Ridgely was an ardent Methodist, however, the ostentation and lavish furnishings seen in later rooms at Hampton are not present here. The room is now usually arranged to show informal activities such as a lady's morning room or family tea party.

Federal style, 1790-1810

Before the Revolution, sofas were a rare item found only in the homes of the very wealthy. By the early Federal period, the use of sofas in drawing rooms and parlors became more widespread among the well-to-do. This sofa was of a shape referred to as “cabriole.” The design, based on Plate 24 in the book published by English cabinetmaker George Hepplewhite (The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer's Guide, 1788, 1794), was one that was favored in Baltimore. The inlaid bellflowers which ornament the legs are also of the design typical of Baltimore craftsmanship.

Chairs Federal style, 1797

Annapolis; made by John Shaw (fl. c. 1768-1816)
Famed Annapolis cabinetmaker John Shaw received the commission from the state of Maryland in 1797 to make 24 armchairs for the “accommodation of the Senate.” The chairs were used in the Annapolis State House probably until the 1820s when they were dispersed when the state government acquired new furniture. It is believed that Charles Carnan Ridgely, who had been governor of Maryland for three terms in 1816-1818, acquired a pair of chairs from the Senate Chamber set at that time.

Dining Room

The Dining Room is furnished to represent Hampton between c. 1810 and 1829 when second master Charles Carnan Ridgely died.
The Governor was said to "keep the best table in America," and the settings seen in the Dining Room reflect his sophisticated taste and wealth.
Seasonally, the Hampton table setting is changed, representing the first course of a sumptuous dinner in winter, with two table cloths and all the plates and service dishes in an orderly, symmetrical pattern. An elegant dessert course is displayed in summer, with cloths removed and an elaborate silver epergne with fruits and sweetmeats displayed in the center of the table. The sideboard features an ostentatious display of family silver at all times.
Ewer Neoclassical style; 1819-1822 Paris; J. A. Cressend
The striking design and neoclassical ornament of this pitcher are typical of the finest French silver. According to family tradition, the piece was a gift from the Marquis de Lafayette, who dined with Eliza Ridgely’s father, Nicholas Greenbury Ridgely, in Baltimore during his triumphal visit to the United States in 1824.

Sauce Tureen, Sweetmeat Dish, and Dinner Plate Neoclassical style, c. 1825 Old Paris porcelain ; made by Feuillet, Boyer, Blot and Hébert
Pieces from the Ridgely’s Paris porcelain dinner service have the maker’s mark “Feuillet” on the bottom. Each piece was custom painted with the Ridgely family coat of arms.

Hospitality was always central to life at Hampton. Guests were entertained with great style and graciousness. Governor Charles Carnan Ridgely, was said to "keep the best table in America." His parties could be quite large, as his friend Henry Thompson recorded in his diary in 1812, "Fifty one People sat down to Dinner in the Hall and had plenty of room."

Note the original English Regency Argand Ceiling Fixture. There is a story told on the tour. That the house was looking for a fixture that would be appropriate for the dinning room. One was found in England at great cost. Between the plane landing and the cart being rolled into the Baltimore airport. The English Regency fixture disappeared! It was a good thing it was insured! The House got the money back and the old grounds gave up a hidden surprise. In the barn hiding behind a fake wall were 3 early Neoclassical 19th century English Regency light fixtures that were original to the mansion hidden long ago. One was very close to the one that disappeared at the airport. It now hangs in the dinning room.

Entertaining was equally lavish and the parties even larger under the next generation of owners at Hampton, John and Eliza Ridgely. In 1840, the list of provisions for a party for hundreds of guests included six dozen chickens, 300 hard crabs, five dozen bottles of champagne, and a cake so large it required six dozen eggs. Even smaller parties during this era were extremely elegant. Elizabeth Wirt Goldsborough wrote her sister the following description of her visit to Hampton in 1848: “…she [Eliza] had prepared a sumptuous dinner…Everything was served up in European style—splendid china, glass, silver & a succession of courses, variety of wines—and everything beautifully garnished with flowers…”

The Drawing Room is furnished to represent the period of 1830 – 1860 when John and Eliza Ridgely were master and mistress of Hampton.

It was Hampton mansion's most formal room, at all periods filled with the best furniture and decorations. The Drawing Room was primarily used to receive guests, entertain visitors, for after-dinner receptions, and other special occasions.
This setting especially reflects Eliza, a woman of great taste and sophistication who traveled widely. An observer once described the Drawing Room at Hampton as "richly adorned with statuary and objects of vertu gathered in foreign lands…" The room combines elements of both the neoclassical and romantic revival styles from second quarter of 19th century.  

Sofa Late Neoclassical (Empire) style, 1832

Baltimore; made by John Finlay (fl. 1799-1840)

This unusual and elaborate sofa is the centerpiece of the greatest documented suite of all Baltimore late Neoclassical furniture. In October 1832, John and Eliza Ridgely were billed for 17 pieces of painted and gilt furniture by John Finlay, a set intended for use in Hampton’s spacious Drawing Room. On the bill, this piece is listed as “1 Sofa with Gilt swans and chimr [sic] legs without Damask for Covering …$80.00.” The “chimr legs,” from a chimera or mythological monster, refer to the gilded lion's paw feet. The fully carved swan arm supports, another motif derived from ancient classical art, can also be found on some of the earliest French Empire designs drawn by Napoleon’s court designers Percier and Fontaine and executed for the Empress Josephine, whose device was the swan.
The sofa is an important early example of original spring seating, dating from just a year after this innovation was introduced to Baltimore. The original crimson silk damask upholstery fabric has been reproduced. The Hampton sofa is considered one of the finest pieces of American-made seating furniture of the era. It is truly a custom order for clients of great wealth and sophistication.

Pier Mirror (one of a pair) Rococo Revival style, 1843

Baltimore; made by Samson Cariss (fl. 1842-1863)
Eliza Ridgely first sought to purchase large French looking glasses in the Rococo (then called "Modern French") taste in 1835, shortly after her return from an extended trip abroad that included several months' residence in Paris. She decided to acquire the mirrors locally and turned to the craftsman who succeeded Thomas Palmer, her previous source for such goods. This very large mirror, its mate, and the four matching window cornices were custom-made for Hampton's Drawing Room by Samson Cariss. He became the leading manufacturer of looking glasses in mid-19th century Baltimore. All the pieces bear the shield from the Ridgely family coat of arms, not the stag's head crest seen on many other pieces at Hampton. The date of 1843 was found when the mirrors were hung in Hampton's Drawing Room (after an absence of 59 years) in 2007. The inside of the back board, never previously visible, was examined and revealed the presence of several fragments of Baltimore newspaper dating from the summer of 1843 that had been used to patch small cracks in the board.

John Ridgely, Charles Ridgely, Henry White II, and Julian Leroy White 1856 By John Carlin

Although to our modern eyes some of the children in this painting may appear to be girls due to their clothing, all the individuals depicted are boys. John Ridgely (1851-1938) and his brother Charles Ridgely (1853-1873) (on the right) are shown with their first cousins Henry White II (1850-1927) and Julian Leroy White (1853-1923), enjoying the pastimes provided by the countryside around Hampton. The mansion’s cupola can be seen in the background of the painting.

Howard Ridgely and Otho Ridgely c. 1862

Howard Ridgely (1855-1900) and his younger brother Otho Ridgely (1856-1929) pose for a studio photograph with their pet squirrel on a leash. Other Ridgely family children kept pets, and their aunt Eliza "Didy" Ridgely White Buckler (1828-1894) also had a pet squirrel, whose antics she described in her journal in 1842.


  1. Great article.

    The outside of the house does indeed remind the viewer of Castle Howard, at least in shape, if not in building material or decorative elements on the front. What a delight, finding a well preserved piece of Georgian domestic architecture. And the Great Hall is gorgeous, perfect as both a picture gallery and a space for family activities.

    I bet there were big debates about how to decorate the rooms - all in one taste, from the original owners? different rooms decorated to represent different decades and different owners? In the end, Hampton's parlour is furnished from the 1790-1810 era, the dining room is furnished from the 1810-1829 era and the drawing room is furnished from the 1830–1860 era. The result is aesthetically a mishmash but educationally more interesting.

  2. Thanks I have two more parts coming. I glad to know that the mansion resembles the Castle Howard as I have not seen it. It is said that George Washington attended a party in the great hall in the 1790's. I stoped at the mid 19th century in my post but just about every 10 years the family had custom made furniture for the house usually with family crest carved somewhere on the pieces. They themselves mixed and matched furniture from the late 18th until the early 20th century all together in one room. If you look at the The Drawing Room Eliza Ridgely had classical furniture made for the room then in the 1840's she had ornate rosewood Rococo Revival furniture and mixed it all together. The interesting thing about this house is the late 18th century architecture of the rooms were not changed.