The Dairy was built between 1780 and 1800, renovated between 1830 and 1840, and was in use until 1942. Built into a hill and low to the ground, with a roof that extends over the edge of the building to maintain cooler temperatures inside, it was designed to store milk and process butter. At the bottom of the stairs of the Dairy is a grotto built over a natural spring. Water from this spring runs inside the building and into a basin. Milk stored in tall stoneware jars sat in the basin to be cooled. Although a cool place during hot months, working the crank of a barrel churn was a monotonous task. Milking dozens of cows in the huge cattle barn once located past the Long House took workers most of the day.
Ms. Croner describes her father's tasks as a dairyman in the early 20th century:
"He took care of the cows...milked the cows and got milk ready in the morning to take out to this lady, Miss Pink German. He'd get up at four in the morning. He had to get the cows milked."
While it was common during the days of tenant farming for the Dairy to be run by a dairyman, through over a century of slavery, enslaved women and paid female employees held the role of dairymaid, where their labor provided additional income for the Ridgelys. In 1822, for instance, the Hampton dairy produced 4,296 lbs of butter commercially sold, netting a profit of close to $1,800. The dairymaid in this period was Milly Sheridan, who worked as a paid employee at Hampton after being granted her freedom in Governor Ridgely's will in 1829.
Read about Caroline Davis Brown to learn about another woman who made the transition from slavery to paid employment in the Dairy.