This year marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War. Take a minute and realize that the Towson we know looked very different during this conflict. Though the layout and the struggles were different, it was (as it is today) beset by challenges yet populated by those who strove to overcome them.
Visiting the just off Dulaney Valley Road provides a glimpse into Towson history. Similarly, a small but informative exhibit on the mansion's second floor provides some information on how the war between North and South affected Hampton and its residents.
“Hampton Mansion and the Ridgely family personified the U.S. at that time," park Ranger Vince Vaise said. "The family was divided just as the country was, though most were Confederate sympathizers.”
It's important to remember that Maryland, having been a border state and not being exclusively tied to the North or the South, had slave-holding families. The Ridgely family was one such example. “Basically the family laid low during the conflict,” Vaise explains, though he goes on to say that Charles Ridgely became Captain of a local militia, and many cousins of the family fought for the South.
The war itself didn't cause much change at the mansion or throughout Towson. But the war's immediate aftermath and the Emancipation Proclamation had powerful effects — the mansion and its owners had benefitted from the labor of slaves.
“It was truly an amazing transformation for the area and power struggles emerged. The fourth master of the mansion was not particularly happy about seeing his past slaves around Towson,” Vaise said.
I don't want to give away all the details of the mansion's history, as residents should visit the beautiful house and its sprawling grounds for themselves. However, I will suggest that now is perhaps the best time to do so. Our country is in the midst of radical changes, social and economic. We're constantly bombarded by partisan opinions and hateful rhetoric. No, maybe it's not quite as bad as it was in the 1860s, but we should all remember that Maryland and the country has seen controversy and conflict before, and we made out all right. Hampton Mansion is a great place to view the past so we can make good choices for the future.
"The exhibit (at the mansion) is up for the rest of the year and (it's) one of the few places you can see how the war affected a family," Vaise said. "It's not all just guns and testosterone.”