The expansive park, managed and maintained by the City of Charleston, is known for its wide open green spaces; water features; large live oak trees; and one-mile perimeter track popular with walkers, joggers and bikers. There's also a children's playground, small walking trail and two adjoining baseball diamonds.
Though many locals take advantage of Hampton Park as a daily exercise destination or for the occasional picnic escape with family and pets, many people are unaware of the park's storied history.
Hampton Park is located in a mostly residential area of the Charleston peninsula, bordered by Hampton Park Terrace neighborhood to the south; Wagener Terrace to the north; the North Central neighborhood to the east; and The Citadel, a historic military college, to the west.
The Hampton Park tale dates back to the 1760s, when the land that is now the park was once a colonial plantation known locally as "The Grove," or Orange Grove Plantation. It originally included land extending to the Ashley River and what is now the popular Lowndes Grove Plantation event venue.
Belonging then to the Gibbes family, the plantation transistioned into a socialite's horse racetrack operated by the South Carolina Jockey Club. Today, Mary Murray Drive encircles Hampton Park in nearly the same coordinates of the old horse track.
Many locals would be surprised to know that Hampton Park was also once the site of a mass grave of over 250 imprisoned Union soldiers during the U.S. Civil War, one that was unearthed and respectfully reburied by newly freed former slaves after the war had ended.
A fence was built around the new burial site, and later, on May 1, 1865, a massive parade took place in the area, followed by scripture readings and flower bearing.
Though the buried were eventually moved to a national cemetery in Beaufort, S.C., the Charlestonian freedman families who gathered at this site to honor the Union soldiers are believed by many to have founded the tradition of Decoration Day, known today as Memorial Day, with that gracious ceremony.
However, several other occasions of honoring those fallen during the Civil War occurred around the same time in other states, and many other cities lay claim to starting the Memorial Day tradition as well.
The park turned once more to farmland before being purchased by the city in 1906.
Since its opening, Hampton Park has been home to a zoo and aviary from 1932 to 1975, when most of the animals were moved to Charles Towne Landing, a state park across the Ashley River.
Today, Hampton Park is an ideal place to spend the day or afternoon outdoors, enjoying Charleston's idyllic weather, as the park includes public restrooms, clean drinking water and even free WiFi.
Hampton Park is perhaps best known for its beautiful blooms, with a wide variety of flowers displaying their colors for the entirety of the spring and summer seasons.
From the pond and fountains to swaying trees and flower beds in bloom, photo opportunities abound at Hampton Park, making it a popular destination for engagements, weddings, family photo shoots and portrait sessions.
Hampton Park is easy to get to by foot, bike or car, and vehicle street parking is always readily available both on-site at the park and throughout the adjacent residential neighborhoods.
Just be sure to carefully read the signs detailing visitor parking restrictions and time limits if you're parking on the street.