NEWBERRY ‒ Florida’s newest historic landmark has been unveiled in Newberry. In what was a decade’s long process, on Dec. 4 a plaque was unveiled designating Dudley Farm as a National Historic Landmark. The 260-acre property contains 18 frame buildings built between 1882 and 1945 by three generations of the Dudley family, one of the early settlers in the area and prominent figures in the history of Alachua County.
Phillip Benjamin Harvey Dudley and his wife, Mary, originally settled in Archer but moved to the present location in 1855. They came, like many other plantation owners in Alachua County, from South Carolina and brought enslaved African Americans with them as laborers, producing mainly cotton.
Dudley rapidly became a middle-class agrarian through his ownership of 960 acres and the 30 enslaved people who cleared land and grew cotton. Dudley served in the Civil War as a Confederate officer while his family maintained the farm. When the war ended, he returned home to the challenge of managing a large cotton plantation without the newly freed slaves.
Dudley Sr. and his son, Ben, turned to grazing cattle as well as raising cotton and crops with hired help and tenant farmers. Work began on a road from the farm to Gainesville so cattlemen could drive herds to market. “Dudley” was now on the map as a community center and a crossroad connecting Newberry, Archer, Jonesville and Gainesville.
After his father died in 1881, Ben Dudley built the present farmhouse to accommodate his family that grew to eight girls and four boys. He added a general store, kitchen, smokehouse, sweet potato storehouse, dairy and canning house, outhouses, corn crib and barn. The farm produced various crops, cattle, turkeys and pork. The entire family worked on the labor-intensive farm with horses, mules and essential hired help. Though vital to the farm, laborers and tenant farmers were paid only with a “furnish” partly consisting of pork and sugarcane. Later, laborers and tenants may have worked on a cash basis.
Ben died in 1918 and his wife, Fannie, managed the farm with her sons Ralph, Harvey and Frank. They kept up with the advances in farming technology and the farm continued to expand. Most of the children moved away, but Ralph continued to run the farm until his death in 1967. Myrtle Dudley, the youngest of Ben's 12 children, was the last to remain on the farm. She managed a small cattle herd and vegetable and flower gardens.
To keep the farm intact as she grew older with no heirs, she donated 24 acres, with most of the buildings to the Florida Park Service in 1983. In 1986, the state purchased an additional 232 acres to preserve the rural landscape. Myrtle continued to live on the farm until her death 1996 at the age of 94.
The Park Service kept the historic site as an example of a late 1800s working farm by using staff and volunteers in period farm clothing to carry out daily chores, raise the crops and take care of the livestock and educate visitors to life in the 1880s. Historian and Author Maurie Laurie petitioned to get Dudley Farms added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, which was granted in 2002.
According to Dudley Park Service Specialist Sandra Cashes, the process for applying for National Landmark Status started back in 2009 and Dudley Farm was finally designated as a National Historic Landmark in January 2021.One benefit of the status is the property can qualify for more federal grants for upkeep and restoration. Another recent change was the annexation of the property into the City of Newberry. This allows the City to have more input into upkeep and changes to the property and promote it as a historic tourist destination, although all final decisions are made by the State Park Service.
The ceremony to officially unveil the plaque for the Historic Landmark designation also included farm held demonstrations by staff dressed in period clothing on a variety of activities on how the farm worked. Reenactors demonstrated the cane grinding and syrup process, blacksmithing, laundry, cooking, sausage grinding and corn husking. Other reenactors played music at various spots throughout the farm.
Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe introduced several speakers including new park manager Dennis Parsons, Cashes and Laurie, all of whom talked about the history, significance and future plans at Dudley Farms. Speaker Sherry Dupree discussed the one piece of history that has been missing is the contribution of the African Americans on the farm, first as slaves and later as laborers and tenant farmers. She spoke about the current efforts to add that history to the park and announced that another building will be added to the location.
The Perkins House, owned by Helen Saltzgiver, was home to an African American family that once worked at Dudley Farm. “James and Rebecca Perkins were one of the Jonesville pioneer African American families,” said DePree. Coming from South Carolina as enslaved African American workers, the couple owned 40 acres northeast of Dudley Farm where they raised eight children. “By bringing the house here, it will be used to educate visitors about the lives and accomplishments of African American families during the 19th and 20th centuries,” said DuPree.
Saltzgiver has agreed to donate the house to the park, and Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe said an anonymous donor has agreed to pay the $75,000 cost of moving the house to Dudley. Due to requirements for the Park Service and National Landmark staff to complete site surveys, it may take up to nine months before the actual relocation will take place.
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