Every year, I help with the decorating of “The Palace in the Woods”, Hampton National Historic site in Towson, Maryland, for their Yuletide celebration. Dating back to the eighteenth century, Hampton is a large estate built in the Georgian architectural style, situated on many acres including a farm, greenhouses, slave quarters, an orangery, large Italianate gardens, horse stables, cemetery, and an English style park-like setting. Built as a country seat just after the Revolutionary War by the prominent Ridgely family, the house and its immediate surroundings are just a remnant of the Hampton estate of the early 1800s.
Decorating the Mansion along with the Park service is a lot of fun, and gives me ideas on decorating my house with fresh greens, garland, natural materials, and fresh flowers and fruit – all materials that were used back “in the day”, Williamsburg or Colonial style.
Located in the music room, the Christmas tree exudes Victorian elegance with the hand-made ornaments reflecting the ornate Victorian era. The screens in the background are hand painted with colorful scenes and the furnishings reflect the lavish decorating in vogue at that time for the very wealthy. The mansion showcases Mid-Atlantic life from before the American Revolution to after World War II.
Place settings are in the cranberry colors befitting the Yuletide season, and sideboards and tables are set with the house silver and groaning with food ( good quality fakes), but set up for a typical Christmas spread of the period.
The Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland take charge of the festive greenery decorations, as well as the fresh floral arrangements, all with the time period in mind when choosing materials. Slated to be restored in the near future, the dilapidated greenhouses were used by the Ridgelys used for out of season food and forcing flowers. Many of the clubs of District III, Baltimore and Harford County, participate and get together to carefully decorate the towering Christmas tree and make lots of labor intensive boxwood wreaths and arrangements.
We meet in the old Orangery to work our magic on beautifying the mansion. Armed with fresh-cut greens, we bring cut flowers, greens, and cutters. The Park Service also will cut some special greens from the surrounding landscape, like ivy berries, holly, and boxwood, which are beautiful and were certainly used when the Ridgely family lived there.
At night the mansion is full of musicians, carolers, and docents who will answer questions about daily life of the Ridgelys, as well as the many slaves who lived on the grounds. The Hampton estate was the home of the Ridgelys through seven generations, and also of the enslaved people, indentured servants, and paid laborers who supported them, from before the American Revolution to after World War II.