Dudley Farm Historic State Park, Newberry
Photos/Text by Kelsey Walters
Family Activities Near Gainesville
Many people think of the Sunshine State as a land of sunburnt tourists, teeming with gators and home to the world’s most famous mouse.
Before Walt Disney settled into Central Florida and made it one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, Florida had a lengthy history of war, exploration and the pioneer spirit. Way back in the history books in 1859, a large plot of land was purchased by Phillip Benjamin Dudley Sr. in Newberry, just west of Gainesville. He made the farm his family’s home and today, you can visit the working farm much like it was all those years ago.
Like many other historic sites around our state, this farm demonstrates the life and times of the area from around 1880 through the 1940s. What sets this place apart, however, is that the activities aren’t just a show for visitors and tour groups – they are all done to keep the working farm running smoothly.
Educational and Fun for Everyone
At Dudley Farm Historic State Park, you can find 18 structures standing today, all in everyday use and working order on the bustling farm. These buildings weren’t reconstructed to original specs though, they are the actual architecture from the Dudley family days that have been painstakingly restored. When you arrive, you are greeted by the Visitor’s Center with a video of the land’s history to jumpstart your trip. A winding path will take you to the main farm area. This path is the same road originally used to herd Cracker cattle from Gainesville all the way to Cedar Key.
After a brief walk, you’ll come across the farmstead, including the original farmhouse still decorated and furnished in the customs of the past, the kitchen outbuilding, a general store and post office. Livestock including some cracker cattle, a cracker horse, mule, turkeys, chickens and roosters can be found roaming the fields, as well as some wildlife like deer and wild turkeys if you’re lucky enough to spot them.
Living History on Dudley Farm
What I found most interesting about this historic site, which was donated by Phillip’s granddaughter Myrtle in 1983 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002, is even the park staff embody the pioneer spirit in their daily work. We came across a park ranger, Stephanie, in full costume working in the kitchen, emptying rain barrels and feeding the chickens. If you visit on a particularly warm day, you’ll really appreciate what the staff, and the Dudley family, endured in the Florida heat in this clothing.
We found Norm Tankersley in the farm’s commissary, where you can purchase books, toys and homemade items such as quilts and the farm’s own cane syrup. Norm regaled us with tales of his childhood, similar to life on the farm, and memories of electricity being connected to his home for the first time.
A working farm can’t be working without their own crops, and Dudley Farm shares the fruits of their labor by the glass bottle. The sugar cane is grown on-site, and during the fall on weekends, is pressed by mule then cooked down to a delicious syrup. You can stop in to see the entire process and purchase a bottle of your own for just $5 (available for purchase all year round). Dudley Farm themselves recommended using the syrup to whip up some sugar cane cookies, a pecan pie or a tasty marinade, which I can’t wait to try!
Things to Do at Dudley Farm
The farm is ideal for people of all ages, with interpretive exhibits, maps and a guided cellphone tour. My husband, Scott, and I are big history buffs so we enjoyed the learning experience. Little ones will delight in the animals and open grassy areas to play in while older kids will be utterly baffled by the “gadgets” and equipment of yesteryear. Our 1-year-old daughter, Avery, squealed with delight at the turkeys and roosters, and the wide paths were perfect as she gets used to her wobbly legs and learns to walk.
Tours are provided Wednesdays through Fridays. On weekends, you can meander at your leisure. Programs and events are planned throughout the year, so check their calendar online to see what’s coming up.
If you’re looking for a relaxing day away from modern gadgets and screens, take a page from the history books and head to Dudley Farm!
Dudley Farm Historic State Park
Wed – Sun: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.; closed Mon – Tue
$5 per vehicle (cash only, honor system)