Life is a series of compromises, isn’t it? Little things and sometimes monumental achievements come by way of compromise. Take a couple deciding where to go for dinner. This simple, yet oh-so-common dilemma can sometimes end in quagmire. That’s when compromise is most important, when two or more parties just can’t seem to get their way. Those caught in this struggle can give up and walk away, or they can think outside the proverbial box and find ways to give each party a little bit of what they want so that everyone is happy (or at the very least, reasonably content with the outcome.)
An example of this is happening as you read this. The Patten House—which was the home of Melville and Dudley Patten built in 1895 in front of his father’s home, The Gamble Mansion in Manatee County, Florida—was on the chopping block back in 2014 due to termite and water damage. The State of Florida, its caretaker, agreed to invest in a full restoration. The long, slow process was initiated and until recently looked as if it was at last in the final stages, then BAM! Out of nowhere, the State announced they had decided to demolish the home. There’s no need to hash out the reasons, the final decision was made and announced, and all who heard the news gasped.
How could this be? What can be done? Is there a way to save her?
There is, through compromise.
This House is No Stranger to Compromise
When Mrs. Patten died in 1966, after living in this home for 71 of her 98 years, the State of Florida agreed to accept the donated home IF the home could be picked up and moved some 50 or so yards to the east to allow for a better view of the Gamble Mansion from the road. This seemed a reasonable compromise. And so, the house was moved, repainted, furnished and open for tours as well as a meeting place for the organization which had rallied to save her, the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
Remember, it was this same organization that in 1925 had rallied support and raised the funds to save the Gamble Mansion, built in 1845 by Robert Gamble. Because of their action, the Gamble Mansion is the oldest surviving home on the West Coast of Florida. And because of their fund-raising efforts in 1967, the house was donated to the Gamble Plantation Historic State Park, instead of almost (literally within minutes) being purchased by an individual who showed up with a briefcase filled with the exact asking price in cash. The Patten House almost became a doll museum.
But way before being saved by the UDC and the move across the lawn, the Patten House was part of another, larger, more important compromise. Calling this the Great Patten Compromise will make sense, but let’s start from the beginning.
A Little History
Dudley Patten, the builder/owner of the Patten House, was born in 1861, the year the War Between the States began. After the war, his father, Major George Patten a prominent Cotton broker in Savannah, Georgia, relocated his family to Manatee. The family lived in the old Braden Castle on the south side of the Manatee River, a short boat ride across from The Gamble Mansion which would become their home in 1873 (after a long settlement process and payment of $3000 in back taxes). Dudley was a boy of nine on the Manatee County 1870 Census. Imagine being nine years old, moving to Florida, and setting up a new homestead on the once-bustling, now eerily quiet Gamble Plantation. What that must have been like for Dudley and his five siblings.
George Patten was listed as being 65 years old on that same 1870 census, and because he was too old to work the whole 3,500-acre plantation, he sub-divided the land into plots—some of which he gave to his children and his freed slaves (who had asked to come to Florida with him), setting one plot aside as a community burial grounds. The other plots he sold to interested buyers who arrived in Manatee for the same reason George had come, looking for a fresh start in a war-torn Southland. Once several plots had been sold and settled, this created a small community, which George Patten named Ellenton, after his second oldest daughter Ellen who was 22 when they moved to Manatee and was one of Dudley’s four sisters.
The Patten family lived in the Gamble Mansion, which was sturdy, but difficult to maintain as it continued to age. The Pattens had their work cut out for them; keep in mind, had moved into an almost 30-year-old home in the middle of the Reconstruction Era. They made do, raising their children and three of their eldest daughter Hettie’s children, after her death.
On June 20, 1891, Major George Patten died at the age of 85 in one of the the upstairs bedrooms at the mansion. That same year, his son Dudley married Ada Melville Turner and they moved into the Gamble Mansion to assist his widowed mother. Melville and Dudley’s oldest son, Roy was born in the Gamble Mansion.
Soon thereafter, Mrs. Dudley Patten asked her husband to build them a new, modern home. Rumors abound that she insisted because she disliked the crumbling old mansion or living her mother-in-law, but quite possibly it was a little of both. So, Dudley began work on the new wooden, 4-room cottage, and while it was being built, their second child, Ida Mell, was born at the home of Mrs. Patten’s parents near Tampa. Soon, the young Patten family was living in their own little place, in the shade of two old oaks, just a stone’s throw from the mansion that once stood like a shining bright beacon on a thriving sugar plantation.
In 1897, Dudley’s mother, Mary Thomas Patten passed away in her bed at the Gamble Mansion, marking the end of an era for the old home. The dilapidated tabby, brick, and stucco home would stand empty aside from frequent and random visitors. Melville and Dudley’s oldest daughter Ida Mell recalled later not truly understanding who owned the home, as different people always seemed to be staying there.
Whether one stayed in the new, modern Patten House or the old, run-down Gamble Mansion, one thing remained the same. People had to use an outdoor bathroom, or privy. Each home had its own outhouse, which was the rule of the day, for centuries. Chamber pots and wash basins inside the bedrooms provided emergency and night-time assistance when nature called. But for the most part, people were accustomed to traipsing outside, many feet from the main dwelling, to relieve themselves or cast out trash that couldn’t be burned in a rubbish pile.
The Patten’s cottage had an addition added in the early part of the 20th century. They acquired a dining room, kitchen, and back porch. It wasn’t until the 1912 addition of the two upstairs bedrooms and the wrap-around verandas that there was talk of adding a new-fangled thing called indoor plumbing. Imagine, five children begging their father to add on an indoor bathroom! Well, that’s just what they did. And here is what Father Patten had to say about that. “No. Absolutely not.” One can imagine him wagging his index finger at them as he sternly added, “That business does not belong inside the house!”
There was no arguing with Father. Children knew better.
But, being a wise man, and realizing the benefits of appeasing his family and the obvious convenience of a flush toilet and bathtub that could be filled and drained without heating water on the stove, Dudley Patten made probably one of his most popular decisions. He agreed to give the family a throughly modern bathroom, attached to the house, but three steps down and 30 paces out the back door! Hence, the Great Patten Compromise.
This Great Compromise became one of the first, if not the first, plumbed residential bathrooms in Manatee County.
This undated photo clearly shows the bathroom addition (and the marvelous screened porch) of the Patten House. One can almost make out the delineation between the downstairs bedroom and the bathroom, with its little square window.
Back to the Future
It’s our understanding that this Great Patten Compromise history was not known to those who drew up the plans for the current renovation/restoration project. The bathroom, which in the early 1970s (after the move to the east) had been re-added by the Florida State Parks, was seen as a 1970s addition RATHER than what it was—was a 1970s replacement of the original. The new plans include a 21st century ADA-compliant bathroom, but it won’t be attached to the house like the original Great Patten Compromise. The original was a gentle, yet awkward sloping roof covering what at once is still an outhouse, by all intents and purposes, but which settled a great dispute over allowing “that business” inside the home. Not having an indoor toilet, sink, and bathtub or shower something we can’t even fathom today.
What we can understand is that compromises such as this are important in all relationships. Keeping the peace should be something for which we all strive. It’s just a matter of being flexible and willing to give sometimes so one can take at other times. Push and pull, give and take, these are the natural struggles of humankind. Compromise is the solution.