Gamble Plantation House Provides a Look at Antebellum Life

Reed Travel Features BRADENTON, Fla. - A step inside the white picket fence that surrounds Gamble Plantation in Ellenton transports guests to the 1800s. The state historic site is the only surviving antebellum plantation house in southern Florida. In 1925, the United Daughters of the Confederacy purchased the property, which was in ruins, and restored it. Visitors can observe what 19th century sugar plantation life was like. The tour winds through eight of 10 rooms to reveal a less-than-luxurious lifestyle. There was no electricity, of course, only open-fire cooking, and there was the constant threat of attack by Indians. The mansion was the home of Maj. Robert Gamble, who settled here in 1844 with slaves borrowed from his father. There, he carved a 3,500-acre sugar plantation from the wilderness. The plantation produced molasses and sugar, which were sent to markets in New Orleans. After the Civil War, Union marauders torched the sugar mill. It took six years to build the mansion, which is constructed from a primitive material called tabby, a mixture of oyster shells, sand and water. A large cistern adjacent to the mansion shows the unadorned tabby construction. The cistern itself was built to collect rainwater because Gamble did not believe that well water could be consumed. Gamble used minnows to eat the algae and mosquito larvae that the rainwater drew. Today, architects study the techniques Gamble used to keep the house cool in a subtropical climate, such as large overhangs, two-foot-thick walls and windows strategically placed to catch breezes. Designated the Judah P. Benjamin Memorial, the mansion commemorates the Confederate secretary of state, who hid there for three days as a hunted man after the Civil War. The visitor center's museum contains exhibits that document the plantation's chronological history. Daily tours are offered Thursdays through Mondays at 9:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. Admission is $3 for guests age 13 and older and $1.50 for children ages 6 to 12. Group tours can be arranged in advance, although the house can hold no more than 50 people at one time. For more information, call (941) 723-4536.

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