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A shadow of the Old South

MICHELLE JONES
Published July 4, 2003

A touch of pre-Civil War Florida remains at the Gamble Plantation Historic State Park. The site is the home of the only remaining antebellum mansion in the southern half of Florida.

"A minimansion," says tour guide Shannon Bennett. "A lot of people are disappointed when they see it, it is not as big as they thought it would be."

However, the 10-room restored house, with its 2-foot-thick concrete walls and heart of pine floors, is a memorial to a way of life that ended after the war ended in 1865.

Maj. Robert Gamble bought the land in 1842 and built the house's north section, separated from the main building by a breezeway or dogtrot. Eighteen columns support the roof and upper verandas. A cistern, built from shells, still stands on the western side of the house.

Originally, the home sat on 3,450 acres; 1,500 of those acres were used to farm sugar cane. Gamble's land extended to the Manatee River. Slaves farmed the land for him.

In 1856, because of falling sugar prices and crop losses, he sold the estate for $190,000.

Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin hid in the mansion, designated the Judah P. Benjamin Confederate Memorial, for a few days during his escape from this country at the end of the Civil War.

Although none of Gamble's furnishings are left - all were sold at auction - the house is outfitted with furniture and artifacts of the era.

Gamble Plantation Historic State Park

WHERE: 3708 Patten Ave., off U.S. 301, Ellenton. (941) 723-4536.

WHEN: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Monday except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Scheduled tours at 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. and 1, 2, 3 and 4 p.m.

COST: $4 for adults and $2 for children.

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