Friday, June 4, 2010

Gamble Plantatation Historic State Park - Ellenton, Florida

The beautiful old Gamble Plantation house in Ellenton - just south of Tampa Bay - is the last standing original plantation house in South Florida and is one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture in the state.

Built in 1845-1850 by Major Robert Gamble, who farmed sugar cane along the Manatee River, the house was once the center of a massive plantation that covered thousands of acres of land. The area, with its low swampy land, was ideal for growing sugar cane and the plantation consisted of both growing operations and a sugar mill.

Gamble had to give up the farm before the Civil War when sugar prices fell and by the time of that conflict it was in the hands of Archibald McNeill, a noted sea captain. When the Union blockade began to close Florida's ports to commerce, McNeill developed a new career as a blockade runner. He ran small ships in and out of the small harbors and inlets along Florida's Gulf Coast and became one of the best known such captains active during the war.

His home was a logical destination for the Confederate officials that fled Richmond when the Southern capital fell in 1865. One of these, Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin (above at left), made his way south into Florida in May of 1865. Reaching the Gamble Mansion, he remained there until Captain McNeill was able to prepare a blockade runner to carry him out past the Union warships offshore. He became one of the few key Confederate officials to escape capture by Union forces.

The house is now the key feature of Gamble Plantation Historic State Park and can be toured Thursday through Monday. The grounds are open year-round. To learn more, please visit

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