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Dudley Farm Historic State Park: The Florida Frontier



Dudley Farm Historic State Park allows visitors to step back in time to Old Florida, before the introduction of paved roads and urbanization. All of the buildings on this land are original structures, not replicas, and were built between the late 1800s to 1945.


When you first enter the park, there’s a Visitor’s Center right off the parking lot with a large front porch and inviting rocking chairs. Inside, you’ll find the history of the Dudley family and the property.



Visitor’s Center

The Dudley Farm Historic State Park visitor’s center has pioneer artifacts and items that belonged to the Dudley family, along with a short video about them. Visitors can view the display cases inside the building before going to see the homestead.


P.B.H. Dudley Sr. moved to Florida from Charleston, South Carolina in 1852, and purchased the property that would become Dudley Farm in 1859. Prior to, and during, the Civil War, Dudley used slave labor to grow and harvest cotton.



A staunch supporter of slavery and secession, P.B.H. Dudley fought in the Civil War as a captain for the Confederacy. After the war, and because of the loss of his slaves, Dudley diversified the crops on his farm and raised cattle, which weren’t as labor-intensive as growing cotton. The family eventually turned to mechanized equipment and adapted their farming techniques to the changing times.


By the early 1980s, Myrtle Dudley (granddaughter of P.B.H. Dudley Sr.) had a few cattle and a small vegetable garden, but the property fell into a state of disrepair. Myrtle donated the land to the park service in 1983 and continued to live on the property until her death in 1996.



Dudley State Park provides a rich history of the Dudley family regarding their success as farmers and their contributions in Alachua County. Unfortunately, the park service provides scant information about the history of the Dudley’s use of slaves on the property.


As I researched information for this post, I found it to be a teachable moment for my kids. We researched the Dudley family’s use of slave labor, their connection with the Newberry Six Lynching in 1916, and the racist comments made by Myrtle Dudley, recorded in interviews before her death in the 1990s. Outside of a brief mention of the family owning slaves prior to emancipation, the park does not provide information regarding the unsavory side of the Dudley family’s history.



The Farmstead

Today, visitors can walk the grounds and enter the buildings at Dudley Farm, including: the farmhouse, tobacco barn, kitchen/dining room, cellar, stables, syrup house, the dairy shed/canning house, the milking room, and the general store, which also served as a post office for local families.


The Farmhouse

Though the Dudley family had owned this parcel of land prior to the Civil War, they didn’t build the current homestead until 1881. Dudley Jr. built the home to accommodate his growing family, which eventually included his twelve children.



They built the home of wood harvested from the land. In sections of the home, the wood no longer lines up, allowing people to see right through to the outside. Though Florida cracker pioneers typically built their homes for increased airflow, we did not feel any cross breeze or relief from the heat on our visit. I couldn't imagine that any of the Dudley family would have stayed indoors on a summer afternoon.


There are four rooms on the bottom floor of the house. The park has blocked off the top floor from visitors. Because of the potential for fires, and the heat produced while cooking food, the kitchen is in a separate building away from the farmhouse.



The General Store

When the Dudley family occupied this land, they operated a general store that also served as the town’s Post Office. Here, townsfolk could purchase dry goods, fabrics, other foods, and necessities.



My favorite part of visiting the old general stores is seeing how much goods used to cost. It seems like it was so much easier to shop during a time when you could get everything in a small store – prior to having to brave a Walmart Supercenter for all your needs.


The Dairy Shed

The dairy shed was the “she shed” of its day, a place for the women to do their work. They milked the cows, canned goods, and did laundry in this building.



The Syrup Complex

Though farmers could not produce maple syrup in Florida, they did have an alternative. They grew sugarcane and harvested it in the fall, using a mule-driven cane mill to process the stalks and turn them into cane syrup.


If you’ve never had cane syrup, I can assure you, it tastes nothing like maple syrup. Though it is sweet, because it comes from sugar cane, it gives off more of a molasses-type flavor. Cane syrup is an acquired taste, like kombucha or beer.



The Cattle Shute/Hay Barn

The cattle chute is the first implement of farm life visitors get to see when walking to the farm. The farm hands would have used this chute to queue the cows. In the back of the property, a large hay barn still stands as a testament to how many animals the family needed to feed on their farm.


The Farm

Volunteers and park staff continue the tradition of growing fruits and vegetables, and raising livestock. Docents in period-appropriate attire are available to educate visitors about the site’s history and answer questions.



Disclaimer:

As previously mentioned, a member of the Dudley family donated the Dudley Farm Historic State Park site. The state park does a great job honoring the memory of the family and sharing information about what life was like on their rural, north central Florida homestead.

However, they provide little information about the Dudley’s time as slave owners and no information about the family’s later involvement in the Newberry Six lynchings. Since the state park highlights the family’s contributions to the area, but ignores how they achieved these things through forced labor and racism, I have included additional links at the end of this post with more information.


Know Before You Go (weather, hours, cost, accessibility, time spent, food)

Except for the Visitor’s Center, none of the buildings on the property are climate controlled. Because this is a true pioneer homestead, you’ll want to be mindful of the weather on the day of your visit. In the hotter months (May – October) bring plenty of water and bug spray. Our September visit was very buggy and made it difficult to enjoy the grounds while we were slapping ourselves.


Visitors can see inside the buildings to view their contents and take pictures, but there is a rope blocking further entry. In the farmhouse, the state park service has kept the hallway open, but they blocked the rooms off for viewing only.


Looking for other cool things to see in North Central Florida? Check out 5 Fun Things to Do in Gainesville and Visiting the Historic Haile Homestead!


Location

18730 W. Newberry Road, Newberry, FL 32669


Hours & Fees

The park is open Wednesday – Sunday, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m., while the visitor’s center is open until 5 p.m. The cost is $5 per vehicle, paid at an honor box when you enter the parking lot.


Restrooms

Restrooms are located between the parking area and the visitor’s center.


Duration

I recommend setting aside about 1.5 to 2 hours for your visit. There’s not only a lot to see at the farm, but the employees and volunteers have plenty of interesting information to share.



Accessibility/Pets

Off-road wheelchairs are available upon request for visitors to use across the grounds. The park does not allow pets on the farmstead. However, leashed pets are permitted on the short nature trail and picnic area.


Broaden Your Horizons


Websites About the Dudley Family’s Involvement in the Newberry Six Lynching (warning: these websites contain historical photos of the lynching victims).




Have you visited Dudley Farm State Park, or another pioneer settlement in Florida? Do you have a favorite historic state park that you'd like to share? Leave a comment below. We'd love to hear from you!

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