The plantations of the antebellum South were places of gentility and comfort for their wealthy owners — and places of misery for the enslaved people who made them profitable.

The plantations of the antebellum South were places of gentility and comfort for their wealthy owners — and places of misery for the enslaved people who made them profitable.

Several of the old plantations have been preserved as fascinating and historic reminders of a way of life and economic system that was swept away by the Civil War. But only one remains in southern Florida, the Gamble Plantation in Ellenton near Bradenton, which is now a Florida Historic State Park.

The two-story Greek Revival mansion, built about 1840, is a 10-room historic gem.

Although much of the structure's wood has been replaced, the house still has its original 2-foot-thick walls made of brick and tabby, a very strong concrete mixture of shells, sand and oyster-shell lime. And 17 of the 18 huge exterior columns are also original. (One was lost to a 1920s hurricane.)

The historic site today includes 16 acres of what was a 3,500-acre plantation. The Gamble Plantation once had as many as 1,500 acres under cultivation, a state-of-the-art sugar refinery and its own shipping docks on the Manatee River. In the 1850s, the plantation was one of the largest sugar producers in the entire country.

The park is also designated as the Judah P. Benjamin Confederate Memorial because of its connection with Benjamin, one of the most prominent Jewish Americans of the mid-19th century.

Benjamin was a lawyer who owned a plantation near New Orleans. He was also a U.S. senator and had turned down a nomination to the Supreme Court by President Franklin Pierce.

During the Civil War, Benjamin served at various times as the Confederate attorney general, secretary of war and secretary of state.

When the Confederate cabinet fled Richmond in the last days of the war, Benjamin, with a $40,000 bounty on his head, disguised himself as a French journalist and made his way to the Gamble Plantation. There he was hidden for days until he could be smuggled by boat to the Bahamas and eventually to England, where he became a prominent barrister.

Other features of the park include a sugarcane-grinding exhibit and the Patton House, an 1895 farmhouse that is now the Florida headquarters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

The vistor center is open Thursday through Monday, and guided tours of the mansion are offered several times on those days. The site also includes a visitors center and museum with more information about the plantation, the plantation system and the area’s history.

To learn more about Gamble Plantation Historic State Park, call 941-723-4536 or visit FloridaStateParks.org.

Contact Steve Stephens at sstephens@dispatch.com or on Twitter at @SteveStephens.