Flanked by three-hundred-year-old oaks, the grand entrance to the Gamble Plantation Historic State Park evokes Tara. It’s an unmistakable landmark along US 301, which cuts through what was, in 1843, Major Robert Gamble’s 3,500-acre sugar plantation along the Manatee River.
Fees: Free. Tour fees $6 adult, $4 child
Open: Grounds open 8-sunset daily. Guided tours offers Thu-Mon from 9:30-4 PM, 6 times daily. Visitor center open Thu-Mon.
Built of tabby (a mix of oyster shells and lime) with walls 2 feet thick, the Greek Revival mansion was designed to trap cool air like a cave and to utilize rainwater cisterns for fresh water.
The plantation played a pivotal role at the end of the Civil War, when Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin disguised himself as a French journalist, “M. Bonfal,” and fled to Florida. Capt. Archibald McNeil, the plantation owner in 1865, hid his famous guest until arrangements could be made for a boat to Nassau.
In 1925, United Daughters of the Confederacy purchased the land and donated it to the state with the proviso that it be designated the Judah P. Benjamin Confederate Memorial. Restored to its original glory, the mansion features period furnishings and artwork, and is one of the few remaining examples of a Florida antebellum plantation home.
Around the corner up a side street, you’ll find the ruins of the sugar mill that was an integral part of the plantation.