Whenever I stay with my family in north Baltimore, I visit Hampton National Historic Site to walk along its extensive grounds. Construction on Hampton Hall began after 1783 and continued well into the 1800s. The Ridgely family once owned 25,000 acres of land, as well as a number of commercial, industrial, and agricultural interests that allowed them to live well and entertain lavishly. They were able to serve ice cream in July with stored ice, an expensive and time-consuming commodity in 19th century America and Great Britain.
Hampton Mansion’s ice house is located near the circular drive and in front of what once was the laundry. From a distance it resembles a grassy knoll.
The entrance is open to visitors. I clambered down the steep stairs with Alan, a park ranger who kindly guided me down the dark pit.
In winter, slaves or paid workers cut large blocks of ice from frozen ponds on the property. They handed them up the hill on sledges. The ice was shovelled through a hatch into the cone-shaped cavity that extends 34 feet below ground.” – Text, National Park Service
Men entered the cavity through the passage and packed the ice down, often pouring water over it to make it freeze. As the ice melted the mass slid down the cone-shaped pit but stayed compact.” – Text, National Park Service
When the Ridgelys needed ice, a servant would descend into the pit, chip off what was needed, and hoist or carry the load up a ladder and out the passage.” – Text, National Park Service
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