Friday, May 6, 2011

The big Gamble

I first saw pictures of Gamble Place in a book called Old Florida: Florida's Magnificent Homes, Gardens and Vintage Attractions but was disappointed to learn that the property was closed to the public except for special appointments. But while planning a day trip to Ponce Inlet, I noticed on the Museum of Arts and Sciences website that the property was now open to the public and I made it my first stop on my visit to the coast.

The property, on the Historic Register since 1993, is open Fridays and Saturdays from 10 am to 3 pm with guided tours every couple hours. Just a mile and half from 1-95, it's easy to get to and well worth the trip.

James N. Gamble was the eldest son of James Gamble, the co-founder of Proctor and Gamble. Born in 1837, James N. studied chemistry in college, but his first job was in the law firm of Rutherford B. Hayes. He soon went to work in the family business and has been credited with the invention of Ivory Soap, although that is disputed today. Some interesting facts about Gamble:
• He hired Thomas Edison to invent a way for the P&G offices to communicate with the plant two miles away – the result was the teletype machine
• Gamble was well known for his philanthropic gifts, from building churches in his hometown of Cincinnati, to building wells for his neighbors on his property in Port Orange
• He first visited the Florida property in the 1890s, arriving via Spruce Creek, because at the time no roads existed near the property

Gamble purchased the 175 acre parcel in 1898 and 9 years later finished construction of a small bungalow on the property. The property had an orange grove and open air citrus barn, which was modified around the turn of the century to be a full-fledged citrus packing house for the distribution of the produce grown on site. According to the guide on my tour, all the citrus was given away to the needy. Here's a good article about more of James N. Gamble's charitable works.

The bungalow borrowed design elements from Cracker architecture like this dogtrot

While the house is in immaculate condition, the period furnishings
are not original to the Gamble property

The citrus packing house was originally constructed in the 1880s but modified later

Gamble passed away in 1932 at the ripe old age of 95 and the property came into the possession of his daughters. One of the daughter's husbands, Judge Alfred K. Nippert, became obsessed with Disney's Snow White and Seven Dwarfs and subsequently built the Snow White Cottage in 1938. According to the tour guide, the Judge borrowed animation cells from Disney to get all the details right, and that Walt himself inspected the property and gave his stamp of approval by donating life size dolls of the movies main characters. Supposedly the Snow White doll resided in a glass casket like in the movie, until it was stolen.

Pecky cypress paneling is used throughout the cottage

Innovative use of cypress knees

The Witch's Hut is made from a giant cypress trunk

The Gamble family donated the entire property to the Nature Conservancy in 1983. The entire property was later restored and in 1999 the Nature Conservancy donated Gamble Place to Daytona's Museum of Arts and Sciences. Gamble Place is in remarkable shape aside from the Witch's Hut, which appears to be under attack from woodpeckers. All the buildings were constructed of materials found on site. I was particularly drawn to the fantasy architecture of the Snow White Cottage. Additionally there is also a two-story cabin designed to be the dwarf's diamond mine shaft and a wishing well connected to a wading pond.

This site draws together many of the things I love best of old Florida: historic architecture, an offbeat vision, and wonderfully preserved natural areas. James N. Gamble's motto was said to have been "Do the most good you can, to the most people you can, in the most ways that you can." His good works live on at Gamble Place.

Beautiful gazebo overlooking Spruce Creek

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