LWRWC Visits Gamble Plantation Historic State Park
On Friday, October 21, 2016 a group of 46 members from the Lakewood Ranch Women’s Club participated in a memorable journey back in time to the early pioneer days of the Florida Sun Coast when they visited the Gamble Plantation Historic Florida State Park, also known as the Gamble Mansion, located in Ellenton, Florida, on the Manatee River and US 301.
Due to the size of the group, the ladies toured the plantation house in two shifts. While one group took the tour of the antebellum mansion, the other group explored the museum which features several interesting displays, information about the Gamble family, miniatures and relevant historical artifacts. They also had the opportunity to explore the lovely grounds.
The highlight of the visit was the actual tour of the Gamble mansion constructed in the Doric Revivalist Vernacular architectural style, developed by its first owner, Major Robert Gamble. It is the only surviving plantation in South Florida.
At the start of the tour, Ranger Ted Unger helped the group to collectively visualize what it would be like to stand in front of the Robert Gamble House, look south toward the Manatee River in the 1840s, 1850s and 1860s when the sugarcane plantation included 3,500 acres and held more than 200 slaves to work the property and processed the sugarcane. He told them that Gamble shipped his sugar downriver and across the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans. At the close of the Seminole War in 1842, the United States opened the Florida frontier to settlement by European Americans. Major Robert Gamble, Jr. (who was born in 1813 in Virginia), had served in the war and received 160 acres for homesteading. In 1843, Robert Gamble, established a sugar plantation along the Manatee River, a region then remote from civilization. His mansion took six years to build and he accumulated around 3,500 acres, but natural disasters and an unstable sugar market drove him into debt by 1856 and he sold the plantation in 1859.
Ranger Unger explained that the house had been restored with authentic period pieces to give visitors an idea of what the furnishings would have looked like when Robert Gamble lived there.
He also entertained the ladies with interesting facts including the origin of popular names and sayings. For example Hush Puppies got their name, because slaves and kitchen servants used to throws fried pieces of cornbread to dogs that congregated in the breezeway between the main house and kitchen building to keep the puppies quiet. Hence the name “Hush Puppies.” The expression sleep tight originated from the practice of using ropes to tighten mattresses of wealthy landowners before bedtime, since they did not have box springs. Thus “sleep tight” equated to a comfortable night’s sleep.
The tour included the first and second floor of the house and also able the fascinating kitchen building located across the breezeway from the manor house to ensure that the heat would not permeate into the family portion of the home.
In addition to the plantation, there is a 40,000-gallon cistern that provided the household with fresh water (fish were kept in the cistern to eat insects and help keep the water clean), and a 16 acre sugar plantation is all that is left of the original 3500 acres. The park also includes the restored wood-frame, two-story, Victorian-style Patten House, built in 1872 for owner George Patten.
The Gamble plantation gained historical significance in 1865 when Judah P. Benjamin, who served three Cabinet positions under Confederate President Jefferson Davis during the Civil War, including Confederate Secretary of State, stayed at the property before escaping Union soldiers and sailing to England where he became a Barrister (QC). In 1925, the United Daughters of the Confederacy purchased the property and deeded it to the state of Florida. Gamble Mansion and Patten House have been restored to the appearance of a successful mid-19th century plantation. The Gamble mansion was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. Guided tours of the house are given six times a day (Thursday through Monday) for only $6.00 per person.
After the exciting historical journey into Florida’s past, the ladies met at the Riverhouse Reef & Grill on the Manatee River in Palmetto for a delicious lunch. The outing was planned and coordinated by Linda McGrath.