Newberry poised to annex historic site Dudley Farm

After a unanimous vote by the City of Newberry Commission on Monday night, Mayor Jordan Marlowe asked his senior planner, “Did we just annex Dudley Farm on first reading?”

Marlowe said he had to pause on that motion passing because, “that has been a goal of this commission for as long as I could think of. One more time we’ve been able to check off a box that closes off a huge enclave and allows us to close out other enclaves in that section of town.”

As a history teacher for Newberry High School, Marlowe said he is happy to claim Newberry as the home of one of two National Historic Landmark sites in Alachua County, the other being the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park in Hawthorne.

Officially, the park is known as Dudley Farm Historic State Park and it became a National Historic Landmark site in January.

The farm was established by Phillip Benjamin Harvey Dudley Sr. before the Civil War, the website states. Dudley’s son, P.B.H. Dudley Jr. then developed the farmstead as it remains.

There are 18 original buildings that were built between the 1880s and 1930s. They include a restored family farmhouse with original furnishings, kitchen, general store, post office and cane syrup complex.

Staff and volunteers in period farm clothing carry out daily chores, raise the crops and take care of the livestock.

Back in November 2020, Park Manager Sandra Cashes described the property as having 12 female and nine Cracker Cow calves roaming the pastures. And the fields, she said, are used to grow sugar cane which the staff cuts and conducts cane boils, often in front of school groups and guests so that they can learn about the process.

There are also horses, bronze turkeys and heritage breed chickens in pastures and pens on the farm near the farmhouse.

Cashes said the process for applying for National Landmark status started back in 2009 and in November 2020, the National Park Service notified her that it was reviewing the park’s status. Two month later, she got the good news that it was granted National Landmark status.

One benefit of the status is the property can qualify for more grants and that’s where the Friends of Dudley Farms, a Citizen Support Organization (CSO) comes in.

Gayle Ambrose has been a volunteer at the Dudley Farm park for 17 years

The Friends of Dudley Farm is a not for profit 501(c)(3) corporation that has a purpose of assisting the state park by working with the park staff to “support the preservation, interpretation, and operation,” according to the group’s website.

Gayle Ambrose, vice president of the nonprofit, has been a volunteer at the park for 17 years and spends every Wednesday morning there teaching domestic skills from the 1800s.

“It’s a really great idea,” she said about the official annexation, “because everyone already thought we were all Newberry.”

Ambrose said they will have a small celebration when a landmark plaque arrives and is installed.

The National Park Service describes the living history site as being established in 1881 by Ben and Fannie Dudley. “The establishment of Dudley Farm reflects a broader increase in the number of owner-operated farms in the South after the end of the Civil War,” according to the site.

The property acreage is 240 acres and is owned by the State of Florida. The National Historic Landmarks Committee commented on the site’s review with several suggestions to improve the accuracy of the history of the farm.

“It was suggested that the Period of Significance should begin earlier (currently 1881-1945) so as to include the first generation of Dudleys to acquire and use the land to farm.

“The original use was as a plantation with enslaved labor that transitioned into an owner-operated farm that used hired labor. It was noted that there were lynchings in this area during the period of significance and that the Dudley family involvement or awareness of these violent events and racial tensions should be discussed.”

The second reading of the ordinance to annex the property will be read at the next City of Newberry meeting on Sept. 27.

Dudley Farm Historic State Park is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday, and is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. The fee to get in is $5 per vehicle. For more information about the park click here.

And for more information about upcoming events, volunteers, and how to support the Friends of Dudley Farm click here.

Dudley Farm museum
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