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Chilly winds no problem at Gamble festival

ELLENTON — The cold winds and overcast skies didn’t put a chill on the enthusiasm of the visitors Sunday to Gamble Plantation.

The 10th Annual Plantation Festival at the historic antebellum mansion off U.S. 301 drew more than 4,000 over the weekend as it drew to a close at 4 p.m. Sunday.

“It was a really nice festival,” said Peggy Mills, of Indiana, who with her mother, Sandy Fisher, spends winters in Bradenton.

Mills was impressed at how the volunteer tour guides in the mansion were so well-informed.

“We learned how hard it was to maintain a plantation this size,” she said.

Fisher was impressed with the efficiency of the cistern system, where rain water is captured in the large water tank next to the mansion and is naturally filtered through several partitions.

“I remember coming out this way 20 to 30 years ago and it was out in the country,” she said. “Back then it really was in the country.”

Major Robert Gamble built the mansion between 1845 and 1850 as part of a 3,500-acre sugar cane plantation.

After the Civil War, a shaky sugar cane market and natural disasters forced Gamble to sell the plantation.

The mansion fell into disrepair, until the United Daughters of the Confederacy purchased it and 16 surrounding acres in 1925, and subsequently donated it to the state of Florida in 1926 to help insure its preservation

Along with the historic tour of the mansion, where there were demonstrations on early pioneer life, festival visitors were treated to live music, food and merchandise vendors, and a tour of the Patten House, built in 1896, and the headquarters for the Florida Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

There also was jewelry, clothing, wood crafts and much more for festivalgoers to peruse and purchase.

Larry Atkinson, of Lehigh Acres, was selling beachwear under one of the nearly 40 white canopies that dotted the front lawn of the park.

This was the first time he has been a vendor at the festival, but he said he was planning on returning next year.

“I’m not doing too bad,” he said. “All I need was a little sunshine.”

The temperatures were in the high-50s to low-60s all day, with a biting wind, but that didn’t discourage Atkinson’s 8-year-old granddaughter, Ciera, from having a good time listening to the old-time music jam under the gazebo.

“I like all kinds of music,” Ciera said. “I listen to country with my grandfather.”

As she danced to the beat, Craig Seastead, of Bradenton, strummed the banjo; along with Anson Young, of Palm Harbor, and Carl Ross, of Ohio; while Doug Chayka, of Sarasota, and Pat Young, Anson’s wife, played the fiddle.

“This is real music,” said Ross.

The group meets every first and third Sunday at the Gamble Plantation to jam.

“There’s several groups that meet around the state,” Seastead said. “But this area has been a dry spot.”

He said they welcome anyone who wants to join them in playing traditional songs from the early 19th century.

In the big tent behind the gazebo, Bea Daly, chairwoman of the student art show, was pinning ribbons on the winning artwork from the 168 entries of elementary school students.

“We want to get the kids involved,” Daly said. “They come to see their art and then go to see the mansion.”

The art is judge by three local professional artists and first-, second- and third-place ribbons are awarded in two categories — kindergarten through second grade and third through fifth grade.

“This is good for the students,” said Nancy Seagle, an art teacher at Williams Elementary School. “They enjoy seeing their art in public.”

Fellow art teacher, Julia Garland, of J.P. Miller Elementary School, agreed.

“This is visual art, and it has to be shown to be appreciated,” Garland said. “It’s not just the joy of creating, but it’s the joy of showing.”

Both teachers said they include history lessons into their art class curriculum.

The annual festival has been the sole fundraiser for the Gamble Plantation Preservation Alliance, said President June Hartlieb.

The Alliance, along with the United Daughters of the Confederacy, sponsors the event.

“We support the work at the park,” Hartlieb said. “We paid about $1,800 for the repair of the lawn mower this year.”

The organization has about 70 members and is always looking for more volunteers.

For more information about the Gamble Plantation Preservation Alliance or the United Daughters of the Confederacy, call the park office at 723-4536.