Florida has a relatively short settler history, but the Gamble Plantation in Ellenton, Florida packs in plenty of famous names, Civil War history, and settler lifestyle. This grand mansion is the oldest building in Manatee County and the only remaining antebellum plantation house in South Florida. Many Florida plantation homes were burned, destroyed, or lost due to the Seminole Wars, American Civil War, hurricanes, floods, and fire. Fortunately, the Gamble Mansion survived and now provides a tangible insight into Florida life in the mid-19thcentury.
History of the Gamble Mansion
Home to Major Robert Gamble Jr. of Tallahassee from 1844 -1856, the Gamble Mansion was the hub of the Gamble Sugar Plantation prior to the Civil War. After the Civil War ended, Judah P. Benjamin (the Confederate Secretary of State to President Jefferson Davis), hid at the house before fleeing to the Bahamas by boat from Ellenton. He then sailed to England and became a well-known barrister.
Open daily, the property is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is well worth a visit. In 1925, it was purchased by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and donated to the state as a memorial to Benjamin.
Learn more Florida history and interesting facts at the small museum in the Visitor Center. There are plenty of local exhibits and storyboards giving detailed information about the sugar plantation, the Gamble Mansion, and the neighboring Patten Home (1872), which are all part of the Gamble Plantation Historic State Park. Entrance to the site is free and fascinating guided tours are offered Thursday through Monday.
What to See on a Guided Tour of the Gamble Mansion
Book your place on a guided tour and enjoy an entertaining insight into the history of the plantation as you explore this two-story home. At the appropriate time, a docent will join visitors on the front porch of the Greek Revival mansion and the storytelling begins.
This imposing building with is tall white columns was built by Major Robert Gamble in 1844. It has 10 rooms, all furnished with period antiques. Listen to the history of the house and the lives of the slaves that worked the nearby sugar plantation while standing in the dining room. The table is laid for dinner complete with glass salts and bone dishes, as was the custom.
See the map in Major Gamble’s office, which shows the extent of the 3,400-acre sugar plantation. The kitchen is separated from the main house by a dogtrot passage as a fire-prevention measure. Above the kitchen, a rope ladder provides access to the two bedrooms above.
The tour includes explaining the purpose of some of the gadgets found in the home, including an antique wool winder. Follow the outside staircase to the upper verandah and bedrooms, furnished with comfortable four-post beds, armoires, and bed warmers. The 90-minute tour ends in the Trunk Room.
Explore the Historic Gamble Plantation State Park in Ellenton
Once the tour is over, stroll around the 16-acre grounds and see more artifacts. You can’t miss the 40,000-gallon cistern, which collected rainwater as the house had no well. Minnows were kept in the tank to eat the mosquito larvae.
See the old sugar presses and huge sugar kettles that were used on the plantation. In its heyday, the sugar plantation covered 3,450 acres and occupied 191 slaves.
Two memorials in the grounds separately commemorate the Fallen of the Confederacy during the Civil War and those who lost their lives during World War 1.
Gamble Plantation Historic State Park is approximately 30 minutes by car from both Sarasota and Bradenton making it an easy day trip from either location.