ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Gamble Plantation Historic State Park, Florida
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Gamble Plantation Historic State Park, Florida
Gamble Mansion
Built between 1845 and 1850, the historic Gamble
Mansion is the last standing original plantation
house in South Florida.
Judah P. Benjamin
The Confederate Secretary of
State is thought to have
hidden briefly at the Gamble
Plantation before escaping
Florida by boat.
Gamble Mansion
Built to withstand not only the
elements, but also possible
attack by Seminole Indians,
the historic mansion is a
Florida landmark.
Gamble Plantation
The mansion was the center
of a large sugar plantation
owned by Major Robert
Gamble.
Gamble Plantation Historic State Park - Ellenton, Florida
The Judah P. Benjamin Memorial
The last surviving antebellum plantation
home in South Florida is the historic Gamble
Mansion. Located in Ellenton, the house is
the centerpiece of Gamble Plantation Historic
State Park and is just a 30-40 minute drive
from Tampa and
St. Petersburg.

Built between 1845 and 1850 by Major
Robert Gamble, a major figure in the early
U.S. history of Florida, the Gamble Mansion
was the center of operations for a large
sugar plantation. The region of Florida
stretching along the Gulf Coast from Crystal
River down to below Tampa Bay was an
ideal area for growing sugar cane and many
prominent Floridians established plantations
there.

When Major Gamble arrived in 1845, he and
his slaves started work by building the rear
section of the house which served to provide
shelter from the elements and bands of
Seminole Indians then still ready to fight to
resist any attempts to remove them from the
state. Large fields were cleared for growing
sugar cane, as well as necessary foodstuffs
to keep the plantation operating.

As time allowed, the front of the house was
completed in Doric Revivalist Vernacular
architectural style. The columns and much of
the rest of the structure are of tabby, a unique
construction material created by mixing lime
(extracted by burning shells), sand and water
and then pouring it into forms.

By the time Gamble had his plantation fully
up and running, however, he was deeply in
debt. Sugar prices had plummeted and he
was unable to meet his obligations. Left with
no choice but to sell his property in order to
pay his debts, he relocated to North Florida.

By the time of the Civil War, the mansion was
the home of Captain Archibald McNeill. A
daring seaman, he became one of the most
successful of the brave blockade runner
captains who threaded their way in and out of
the inlets along Florida's Gulf Cost to keep
commerce moving throughout the War
Between the States.

In May of 1865, fleeing south in a desperate
attempt to escape capture by Union forces,
Confederate Secretary of State Judah P.
Benjamin reached the Gamble Mansion.
President Jefferson Davis had been captured
in Georgia, but Benjamin somehow was able
to elude pursuit and make his way down the
peninsula of Florida.

Captain McNeill was a logical contact for the
fleeing official. His ability to sneak out to sea
under the very guns of the Union blockade
ships and his loyalty to the Confederacy
made him just the kind of man Benjamin
needed to find. While helping the Secretary to
hide, McNeill made plans to sneak him out
through the blockade.

When conditions were right, McNeill set sail
out of the Manatee River, which fronted the
old Gamble Plantation, and successfully ran
the blockade. With his help, Benjamin
reached Nassau in safety. He later went on
to practice law in England.
Sugar Rollers
These giant rollers once
pressed the juice from stalks
of sugar cane for use in
making sugar.
Like many Southern homes, the Gamble
Mansion later fell on hard times. Fortunately
for future generations, the United Daughters
of the Confederacy stepped in and bought
the house and 16 acres of surrounding
property in 1925. The land and house were
then donated to the state to serve as a
historic site and memorial to Judah P.
Benjamin.

The beautifully restored house is now open
to visitors, who are often surprised to find that
it was really more of a functional home than it
was a glamorous showplace. It is an
excellent place to learn more about what life
was really like for those who owned Florida's
plantations during the antebellum era.

The Gamble Plantation Historic State Park is
located at 3708 Patten Avenue in Ellenton,
Florida. The park is open daily from 8 a.m.
until sundown, 365 days a year.  Please note,
though, that the mansion itself is only open
Thursday through Monday between 9 a.m.
and 5 p.m. Tours are given six times daily on
those days.

The park and grounds are free to visit. The
tours of the house cost $6 for adults and $4
for children.

To reach the mansion from Interstate 75,
take Exit 224 and turn west onto U.S. 301 for
one mile. You will see a white picket fence
marking the grounds on your right. Just turn
right into the park entrance.

Please click here to visit the official state park
service website for more information.
Photos by Lauren Pitone
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Copyright 2011 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.