Hampton Park
Charleston, South Carolina
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Coordinates 32°48′0″N 79°57′22″WCoordinates: 32°48′0″N 79°57′22″W
Area 60 acres (24 ha)
Created 1906

Hampton Park is a public park located in peninsular Charleston, South Carolina. At 60 acres (240,000 m2), it is the largest park on the peninsula. It is bordered by The Citadel to the west, Hampton Park Terrace to the south, North Central to the east, and Wagener Terrace to the north.

Hampton Park, Charleston, SC:
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Colonial Era

The land constituting current-day Hampton Park was, by 1769, part of a plantation owned by John Gibbes and known as The Grove or Orange Grove Plantation.

Race Course

In 1835, part of Gibbes’ plantation was acquired by the South Carolina Jockey Club, a group that developed the Washington Race Course on the site. An annual horse race in February attracted thousands of spectators who could watch the races from an Italianate grandstand designed by Charles F. Reichardt.Today, Mary Murray Drive is a one-mile (1.6 km) parkway that circles Hampton Park in almost the exact location of the race track.

Union Cemetery

During the closing days of the Civil War, the area was used as a prisoner-of-war camp. More than two hundred Union soldiers died in the camp and were buried in a mass grave at the site. Almost immediately after the hostilities, the bodies were exhumed and properly reburied. By late April 1865, a white picket fence on which was written “The Martyrs of the Race Course” had been erected. On May 1, 1865, thousands of people, mainly newly freed blacks, processed to the site, and members of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry marched around the site. The graves were decorated, speeches were offered, and celebrants enjoyed picnics in the area. This has been cited as the first Memorial Day celebration. By 1871, the cemetery was suffering neglect, and the soldiers were reinterred at the Beaufort and Florence National Cemeteries.

After the Civil War, the Jockey Club was unable to resume the popular racing season, and the land was leased for farming. In 1899, the Charleston Jockey Club disbanded, and its assets were given to the Charleston Library Society in 1900. The remnants of the racing structures were removed, but August Belmont was given the gates to the course which he had installed at Belmont Park in New York.

Trade Exposition

At the turn of the century, Charleston hosted a regional trade exposition. The South Carolina Inter-State and West Indian Exposition of 1901–1902 was held on a large tract of land, including the former race course. The exposition opened on December 1, 1901, and attracted 674,086 attendees during its run. On April 9, 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt attended the exposition. Nevertheless, the trade exposition was a financial failure, and it closed on May 31, 1902.

The city of Charleston acquired a part of the exposition land for a park. The park was named in honor of Confederate General Wade Hampton III who, after the Civil War, had become governor of South Carolina. The bandstand from the trade exposition, once located in the center of the park, was saved and moved to its present location at the east edge of the park at the foot of Cleveland St. In addition, the building at 30 Mary Murray Blvd., which is currently used as the city’s Parks Department offices, was retained from the exposition, where it served as a tea house.

The city retained the services of Olmsted, Olmsted & Elliott, a landscaping firm from Boston. John Charles Olmsted, the adopted son of Frederick Law Olmsted, designed a plan for a park following his first visit to Charleston in 1906. At least part of his plans for long parkways along the Ashley River were disrupted when the city sold the approximately 200 acres (0.81 km2) along the Ashley River, the Rhett Farm tract, to the Citadel for the relocation and expansion of its campus.

During the mid-20th century, the park included a zoo. It was opened in 1932, and an aviary was added about six years later. By the mid-1960s, the zoo had become run-down. The zoo closed in 1975, and its contents were largely transferred to Charles Towne Landing, a new state park

The city began a redevelopment of the park starting in the early 1980s. Following several years of decline in the park’s condition, the city refocused landscaping efforts on the park, reduced crime, and installed a small snack stand designed by Sandy Logan. Today, the park is popular with walkers, joggers, and cyclists who use the one-mile (1.6 km) perimeter road for exercise. In previous years, the park was the location for the finale of the Piccolo Spoleto Festival and in present day remains the site for the MOJA Festival in addition to many weddings and other special events.

(Note: The Finale of the Spoleto Festival USA has been moved to Middleton Place, a nearby historical plantation.)