Author Archives: whatsmamawriting
Thrilled to have been invited to share the Patten House and Gamble Mansion story today for educators in Escambia County. Florida history matters and that was 100% validated by the 400+ participants at Raise the Bar 2020. THANK YOU!
Looking through some memories and stumbled upon this one… The last time I donned my 19th century mourning ensemble. Being that it’s Halloween season again, I thought this worthy of sharing.
Below is a photo from the last time I portrayed a woman in mourning… for the 2016 Halloween event at DeSoto National Memorial Park called DESOWEEN!
Needless to say, I spooked many a trail-walker that night. As they rounded the dimly lit path, I stood at the water’s edge weeping and howling for my husband who’d been lost at sea. I was told it was quite creepy. My son, also dressed in 19th Century garb, appropriately played my grief-stricken son. He was amazing, unsuspectingly weaving in and out of the groups of visitors like a specter himself. There were more than a few screams.
The wearing of all black for mourning seems particularly spooky to us in the 21st Century. Perhaps at the time, it was somewhat creepy, too. But it served a very important role. It gave a somber tone to a somber time. And if mourners were seen in public, there was no mistaking them. Onlookers knew at a glance to be extra mindful of someone in the throes of grief.
Today, without such customs, we could be standing next to someone in the produce aisle who is suffering a tremendous loss, and have absolutely NO IDEA. Every day we should treat one another with the utmost respect (Golden Rule and all), but we don’t. It would help if we could readily recognize mourners and give them the extra TLC they require, don’t you agree?
Anyway, as the final weeks of October bring us to All Hallow’s Eve, remember these things: Death is inevitable and should therefore probably not be such a taboo subject and those skeletons you see as part of all the decorations… Well, every human has one and they all look the same… another reason to be KIND.
In recent years we have watched natural disasters create chaos and sadness all over the world. Just last year Hurricane Irma scared the dickens out of us. We feel truly blessed to have narrowly escaped what could have been a real worst-case scenario.
We have talked about an emergency prep station. I actually pinned the one featured below back in 2013. FIVE YEARS AGO!
So, for my birthday (which is next month) we have decided to follow the plan and little by little gain the confidence having a preparedness station like this will bring. We are comforted to know we already own most of these items… Trouble is, these things are stored in scattered areas of the garage or interior closets and not in one central, easy-to-get-to location. The clincher is The Binder. Having all our papers copied and safely stored. Do you have this peace of mind already in place? I am ashamed to admit, if the roof blew off today I would panic. I don’t want to ever feel that.
My guess is that you wouldn’t want to either. I am sharing this in case one of you has thought about this and like us, just not gotten around to making it happen. Hurricane season ends on November 30. Many folks won’t think about this stuff again until next June. This time around, we plan to be truly READY and hope we don’t ever need it.
Headline: First Book on Flowers Published in the U.S. Was Written by Elizabeth Washington Gamble Wirt
I love history. Sometimes in my research I stumble upon things that just send the Dopamine levels in my blood sky high. This discovery is one of them.
In researching the family lineage of Robert Gamble, Jr. who built the Gamble Plantation in Manatee County in the 1840s, I have found many notable Americans. His grandfather, for whom he is and many other men in his family are named—which, by the way, makes it incredibly difficult for researchers—was Col. Robert Gamble, a Revolutionary War hero and a successful and respected merchant in Virginia after the war. Robert Gamble, Jr. had a cousin, also named Robert, whose mother was Letitia Breckinridge. Her father was General James Breckinridge, Brigadier General in the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. He later became a U.S. Representative from his home state of Virginia. His brother, Letitia’s uncle, was John Breckinridge who served as U.S. Attorney General under none other than President Thomas Jefferson.
This is only the tip of the gathered research iceberg.
But, last night (or was it early this morning?) I found out something that I truly was astonished to see. Robert Gamble’s aunt, who was named by her father, Col. Robert Gamble, after his esteemed colleague General George Washington (I found the letter to prove it!) was an author. Yes. Elizabeth Washington Gamble married U.S. Attorney General William Wirt (see what I mean?) and in 1829 a book she had lovingly compiled for personal use had become so beloved by her friends that she could not keep up with the requests for copies. (Remember this is before computers and copy machines.) She was surprised to find a publisher in Boston who was more than happy to publish her little book. He even found the perfect illustrator for it. The book was highly successful.
This “little book” became what is reported to be the very first book on flowers published in America. Elizabeth’s book is entitled Flora’s Dictionary and it is still highly regarded as a botanical resource nearly 190 years later. In fact, the book has had numerous reprints and is still in print today. I just bought a paperback copy of it on Amazon. (What would she think of that?) Original, illustrated copies are listed for sale online to the tune of $3,500!
Anyway… There is so much more I can say about this and probably will one day soon. But for now, I feel compelled to tell the world that when we talk about Robert Gamble at the Gamble Plantation Historic State Park in Ellenton, Florida we rarely delve into his family’s remarkable lineage. Visitors hear that he came from Virginia to Tallahassee then to Florida where his sugar plantation failed so he moved back to Tallahassee where he died. People learn that his family was wealthy, his father a banker… But there is SO MUCH more to tell. So many more, delightful, engaging facets, as is true with most any family. However, this family, even at a glance, seems a veritable Who’s Who in American History.
I am excited to share this family’s stories with you.
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.
153 years ago, the Battle of Franklin was fought and would become known as the bloodiest five hours of the American Civil War.
40 years ago, Dr. W. D. Sugg and his wife, Ruth Dickenson Sugg, donated the house known as Carnton and ten acres to what is now called the Battle of Franklin Trust to preserve, restore, and open the home to the public.
Thanks to Dr. & Mrs. Sugg, over 100,000 people from all over the world visit Carnton each year. The home became the largest field hospital after the Battle of Franklin, and the McGavock Confederate Cemetery adjacent to the family’s private burial grounds, is where over 1,500 Confederate soldiers were lovingly re-interred, cataloged, and honored by the McGavocks in 1866.
No matter your views on this war, it cannot be lost on any human heart that these men (on both sides) boldly and courageously entered what they knew would be a high-casualty engagement and many died of point-blank wounds as the sun set over the smoke-covered battlefield. It cannot be dismissed that Carrie McGavock, who was already grief-stricken at the onset of this massacre, bravely and unselfishly worked to make the dying men as comfortable as possible. She then spent the rest of her life dedicated to the memory of those who perished.
To watch a wonderful video about Carnton, click here.
Dr. & Mrs. Sugg purchased the property in the 1950s, hoping to retire to the hills where W. D. had spent his youth—where his grandfather had fought and been captured during the Battle of Franklin, where his father had been a rural doctor and dairy farmer, where W. D. studied at BGA and Vanderbilt. When it became obvious they would not retire there, donating the home and land had been Mrs. Sugg’s desire. We are so grateful to her and to Dr. Sugg’s love of history and community. We admire their ability to give generously so that we and future generations can touch another time and be made to better understand the events which molded our lives.
At long last, my grandaunt’s stories are off the shelf and into a published book!
When my grandmother’s sister, Aunt Mable, shared her stories with me back in the early 1990s, I had every intention of editing and revising them for publication. I could almost see the stories being on the best seller list or made into a film the likes of Steel Magnolias or Fried Green Tomatoes.
Instead, I got sucked into the vortex of life and the pages sat quietly on a shelf, just waiting.
Lovingly illustrated by my daughter who just recently turned thirteen, these stories are now published and available for family members (and anyone who enjoys tales of the American experience) on Amazon.
The book is a true labor of love. In addition to the delightfully told tales of early 20th Century rural life in Mississippi, the book contains long-lost family photos and a family tree for reference.
Who knows, perhaps Steven Spielberg is looking for a new manuscript to option into a blockbuster feel-good movie.
Until then, I am happy knowing it has made my Aunt Mable proud to hold a copy in her hands. That makes it all worthwhile.
Driving home from the school drop off loop, I spied this scene in the western sky. I was vexed by the realization that I had forgotten my iPhone at home. No camera. So, I decided then and there to go old school. I committed the beautiful scene to memory and the minute I returned home… grabbed paper and watercolor pencils… It can’t compare, but the sliver of rainbow balanced between two pristine white clouds was a sight to behold. Camera or no camera.
Fabulous points that ANYONE can utilize.