Day Trip to Sarasota and Bradenton: Part II - Gamble Plantation
Bushnell, FL - Events of Thursday, February 18, 2015
After driving to Sarasota to have the breakfast buffet at Der Dutchman and to do some sightseeing at Manatee Village in Bradenton, it was still early so we decided to do some more sightseeing before heading back to Blueberry Hill. We took a short drive over to the other side of the Manatee River to Ellenton where we stopped at Gamble Plantation Historic State Park. Gamble Plantation was a pre-Civil War sugar plantation.
Admission to the grounds is free, but there is a $6 per person charge for a guided tour of the mansion. We arrived a little before the 1:00 tour, so we had a few minutes to look through the small museum at the visitor center beforehand. We then headed across the lawn to meet the tour on the front porch.
The Seminole Wars were a series of three conflicts between an amalgamation of Native Americans known as the Seminoles and early Florida settlers. In 1842 following the Second Seminole War (1835 to 1842), this area of the Florida frontier was opened to settlers by offering 160 acres free to anyone who would live on the land for 5 years. In 1843, Major Robert Gamble arrived from Tallahassee, claimed his land along the banks of the Manatee River and established a sugar plantation.
Although Major Gamble was a bachelor, he set about building a proper mansion shortly after his arrival. The house, which took 5 or 6 years to complete, was built in the Greek-revival style. Although it's called a mansion, it's not an opulent showplace. The house was a practical working home for what was then the frontier. It is made primarily from tabby, which is kind of home made concrete consisting of oyster shells, sand, water and lime.
The house looks a lot bigger on the outside than it is on the inside because of the two-foot thick walls, the large roof overhang, and the porches and verandas that run across the front and down both sides of the house. The thick walls, the large roof overhang and the porches helped keep the house cool in summer. The house is two stories high, but it is only one room wide and four rooms long. The rear section consisting of the kitchen and work area on the first floor and storage and slave quarters on the second floor is separated from the main house by a breezeway to keep heat from the kitchen from entering the main house.
We started our tour in the parlor, which is the first room inside the front entrance. Then we proceeded into the dining room.
Although Major Gamble gradually increased his holdings to about 3500 acres of land and around 200 slaves, he did not prosper as a sugar planter due to a major catastrophe and an unstable sugar market. At one point, fire destroyed his sugar mill, which was originally constructed from wood. He rebuilt it from tabby. Then in the early 1850s, there was a downturn in the sugar market. Major Gamble went into debt in 1856 and placed the plantation into the hands of his creditors. The plantation was sold to a couple of investors from New Orleans in 1858 or 1859. Gamble returned to Tallahassee where he eventually married and lived out his life in relative obscurity. He died in 1906 at the age of 93.
When Gamble left his plantation, he put all his furniture in a warehouse, which was later destroyed by fire. For that reason, none of the furniture in the mansion is original to the house.
Our tour continued with the third room on the first floor, which is the office. We then crossed the breezeway to the work room. Here, slaves would have done household chores like ironing, sewing, spinning, weaving and candle making.
Next to the work room is the kitchen.
Prior to heading to the second floor, we stopped outside the kitchen to learn about the 40,000-gallon cistern. The cistern was used to collect rainwater from the roof to use for drinking, cooking and bathing. Minnows taken from the Manatee River helped keep the cistern free from mosquitoes.
The second floor of the main house has two bedrooms and a third room that was used either as a dressing room or for storage. One of the two bedrooms was for Major Gamble and the other was for guests.
During the Civil War, the house was occupied by a ship captain who was a successful blockade runner for the Confederacy. Following the war, Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin stayed briefly at the mansion before fleeing to England where he eventually became a successful Barrister. After the war, the Gamble Mansion fell into disrepair. Its sugar mill had been destroyed by Union raiders during the war, and the end of slavery spelled doom to large plantations.
Major George Patten bought the property at auction in 1873. Although he and his family lived in the mansion for a while, it eventually became too expensive to maintain so they built a Victorian-style house in front of the original mansion.
The Pattens also sub-divided the land into lots and small farms. The surrounding community of Ellenton was named for Major Patten's daughter, Ellen.
In 1925, the Daughters of the Confederacy acquired Gamble Mansion and 16 acres of land surrounding it and donated it to the state. The house was restored in 1927.
After we finished our tour of Gamble Plantation, we headed back to Blueberry Hill where we relaxed for the next few days. We had more sightseeing plans scheduled for the following week. Stay tuned.