South Florida tourists can enjoy a fascinating slice of history with a trip to the Gamble Plantation Historic State Park in Ellenton, Florida. It houses the only surviving antebellum mansion in South Florida, a two-story Victorian-style house built after the Civil War, a 40,000-gallon freshwater cistern and 16 acres of sugar fields.
Construction on the Gamble Plantation began in 1845 and was finally completed in 1850. Major Robert Gamble lived in the plantation bearing his name from 1850 until 1856 when he was forced to sell the property. Declining sugar profits had caused Gamble to fall deeply in debt and he had no choice but to move from the plantation.
Ownership of the mansion passed to Captain Archibald MacNeil, a Union blockade runner in the Civil War. MacNeil helped Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin avoid capture by Union troops near the end of the war in 1865. He took Benjamin down the Manatee River and past the blockade and he fled to England in exile.
Ownership of the plantation passed to George Patten after the Civil War. He built the Patten House in 1872. It is a two-story Victorian mansion that remains a part of state park in modern times.
The original tabby brick composing the plantation house and columns began deteriorating in the early 20th century. The United Daughters of the Confederacy bought the house in 1925, along with 16 acres, and donated it to the state of Florida to serve as a memorial to Benjamin. The house and grounds were restored and converted into a state park.
Gamble Plantation is open for tours 365 days a year from 8 a.m. until sunset. The park and grounds are free to visit. Tours of the house are done from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Tours cost $6 for adults and $4 for children.
It is just a short drive away from Wynnhaven Riverside Park, which is located on County Road 48 in Bushnell, Florida. RV owners will enjoy this look at life in Florida before the Civil War.