The weather in Florida is glorious. Saturday a few of my knitting group went to the Gamble Plantation, a Florida State Park in easy driving distance. It is believed to be the only surviving antebellum mansion existing in south Florida. The mansion itself is glowing white and reminds me of a mini-Tara (from Gone With the Wind if you need a bit of a reminder of the reference). Do check out the link to the state park page. (they have a better picture) I am not a student of architecture but there is just something appealing about the appearance of the building.
The grounds are right on the “main road” and when you see the white picket fence you know you have arrived. The house makes a great impression and you know you have arrived at a special place. I can just imagine riding up on horseback in the sticky heat and seeing the cool white mansion as a place of rest, recovery, and refinement. A bit of astonishment too of what was built on the frontier. Over to the right is a tidy gray and white frame house, where some of the family lived once the “big house” became too expensive and impractical for upkeep. It had been moved from another part of the property to the current location.
There was just enough time before the tour began for us to view the exhibits in the small but informative museum for a perspective of the property, people, and the events through the years.
We were in the first tour group and had a very interesting and knowledgeable docent to show us the house and relay the history of the house and it’s people. I’ve toured some of the big Louisiana plantations and kind of expected to see somewhat of the same design here. Entering the house, there is a beautiful (but rather ordinary) wood staircase to your immediate left and a hallway to your right. No elegant foyer to take your breath away. The home was built when this part of Florida was the frontier and danger lurked from every direction; not only from lightning, fire, and storms but also from unfriendly folks. Mr. Gamble designed the structure so there was always an alternate exit or two from any room.
One of the stops on the tour was a workroom that we could not enter as there was damage to the roof above and the ceiling of the room wasn’t stable. But the docent opened the door and allowed us to look into the deep, dark interior. And what did we see? A spinning wheel and a skein winder! I had my camera out and snapped a couple of quick shots before we had to move along. It was torture to be that close and not be able to inspect more carefully.
The warming kitchen, where the vegetables and side dishes were cooked and plates prepared for serving was fascinating. It had the odor of wood fires as there had been recent demonstrations and dinner prepared by a famous chef specializing in recreating the techniques and menus of the time. What a sense of reality that created. As if a couple of logs added to the coals are all that would be needed to start the meal preparations. The odd shaped globe in the image below is a coffee roaster! You really can’t see, but it has a long handle that the cook could turn for even roasting.
The house is decorated with antiques, but not all of them are from the 1850’s era. Some might find fault with that, but I find it charming – as if each generation left behind their cherished bits and pieces for us to enjoy. The stories of the acquisition and restoration of some of the pieces is nearly as interesting as the information about the house!
The Cistern was fascinating. The water collected in there provided safe and clean(er) drinking water than was otherwise available.
You really have to admire what they were able to accomplish with local building materials and the skill to construct a building that has lasted through the years. Not without quite a bit of work as the building was in serious disrepair (especially after being used as a fertilizer storage barn) and in danger of demolition in the early 1900’s. Fortunately it was rescued by some women who took the preservation of the site and it’s history as a mission. The result of their hard work and vision is the bit of irreplaceable history we can take a few moments of our time to tour and visit today.
I do encourage you to make a point of stopping here on a visit to Southwest Florida.