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A great escape

The Confederacy's secretary of state once used the Gamble Plantation as a hiding place, and visitors today can get lost in its antebellum charm.

A bit of pre-Civil War Florida remains at the Gamble Plantation State Historic Site, home of the area's only surviving antebellum mansion.

The restored 10-room house, with wide, heart-of-pine floors and 24-inch-thick "homemade concrete" walls, is furnished in the style of its heyday, though none of the original furniture remains.

The home, begun in the mid-1800s by Maj. Robert Gamble, was headquarters of a vast sugarcane plantation and grew to a two-story Greek Revival mansion. After a few years, however, Gamble was forced to sell the plantation to creditors, who continued the sugar operation through the Civil War.

As the war ended, the plantation served as a brief hiding place for Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin, who had a price on his head.

Benjamin escaped to England after a few days at the plantation.

The grounds and home fell into disrepair over the next 50 years.

But in 1925, because of its historic value as a haven for Benjamin, the United Daughters of the Confederacy bought the house and 16 acres and gave the property to the state as a memorial.

The mansion is open for tours Thursdays through Mondays. Admission is $3 for adults, $1.50 for children.

Visitors can see the parlor and walk through the dining room, study, bedrooms, kitchen and workroom. Guides provide information about history and life in 19th century Florida.

The free visitors' center also is open Thursdays through Mondays.

The plantation grounds, open daily from 8 a.m. to sunset, even when no home tours are scheduled, include picnic areas.

Information from Times files was used in this report.