While Hubby and I were visiting the Bradenton/Sarasota area we just had to make a side trip to Ellenton to see the only surviving antebellum mansion in South Florida. It's also the oldest building in Manatee County.
Following the Second Seminole War (1836 - 1842) which removed many Indians from Florida, Congress opened up the area for settlement and offered 160 acres to anyone who would live on the land for five years. In 1843, Major Robert Gamble, Jr. of Tallahassee claimed his acreage along the Manatee River, then a very remote region, to establish a sugar plantation.
His mansion took six years to build using slave labor and local craftsmen. The low building in front of this picture is the cistern where they collected rain water for drinking. The two-story mansion has ten rooms and the outer walls are nearly two feet thick. Eighteen columns support the roof and upper verandas.
Although a bachelor, Gamble loved to entertain and even installed a piano in his small living room.
The dining room lavishly fed any company willing to make the trip to his remote location. Once someone made the arduous trip, by river or horseback, they usually stayed a while!
Here's where all the food was prepared. Everything was cooked over an open fireplace.
They had to roast their own coffee beans, fresh each morning, before grinding them for the master's coffee. Since coffee beans were a precious commodity, that had to be shipped in, servants had to be extra careful not to burn the beans!
Gamble eventually accumulated 3,500 acres and was producing large amounts of sugar. The areas in green were part of his plantation.
However, natural disasters and a fickle sugar market drove him deeply into debt.
As if falling sugar prices and natural disasters weren't enough, there was still the occasional Seminole Indian attack. Everyone, including slaves, would grab guns and take up their posts in the mansion. The second floor veranda provided a good view.
This bedroom is at the front of the house on the second floor. There is no hallway and you have to pass through one bedroom to get to another. Hopefully, Gamble's guests weren't shy!
Each room in the mansion has it's own fireplace. The two-foot thick walls may help keep out the summer heat, but they also help keep in the winter chill.
I really liked the bed in the second bedroom and I actually learned something interesting! See how there is a blanket rolled around the bar at the foot of the bed? That is officially a blanket roll and the ends were kept waxed so the bar would roll quietly in the middle of the night when the bed's occupant would reach down and pull the blanket over him/her when cold. I even have a bed with a roll like that at home and didn't know it's purpose!
One more room completes the second floor. It was used as an extra bedroom or place to store trunks and other items.
By 1856 Gamble could no longer weather the problems stemming from falling sugar prices and crop losses. He sold the entire estate for $190,000 to two men from Louisiana and returned to Tallahassee. In 1872, the land and mansion were sold by forced sale to Major George Patten (no relation to the World War II General) for $3,000. And we think home prices have fallen badly now days!
In 1895, the Pattens abandoned the mansion to avoid the high cost of maintaining the aging and decaying house. The youngest son of George and Mary Patten, Dudley, built this house on the property around 1895. By the 1920's the vacant mansion was in ruin. But, in 1925, the Judah P. Benjamin Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy purchased the property and deeded it to the State of Florida as a historic site. A happy ending at last for the beautiful antebellum mansion!