The Dudley Farm Historic State Park in tiny Newberry, Florida, is a portal into the past. Living history re-enactors manage a sprawling farm and historic state park that brings Old Florida to life.
Park staff and volunteers in period dress offer tours of the farmhouse and grounds donated in 1983 by Myrtle Dudley, the youngest of Phillip Benjamin Harvey Dudley Jr.’s twelve children. According to assistant park manager Sandra Cashes, each of the girls in the Dudley family was required to make eight quilts before she was allowed to marry. Cashes tells visitors that this might be one of the reasons Myrtle Dudley never married.
Park visitors walk down a long, dirt road before reaching the Dudleys’ farmhouse, which is surrounded by lush vegetation including a palmetto tree that is a century old. Two massive, approximately 80-year-old crape myrtle trees that still bloom might be among the oldest crape myrtles in the state of Florida.
Three generations of Dudleys operated the farm, which is still a working farm today. Inside the farmhouse there is a dog run hallway to promote cross ventilation between the front and back of the house. A bedroom on the ground floor reveals the crowded conditions the family endured: the room contains a double bed, children’s bed and crib. “The upstairs was used to store hay before the children kept coming,” Cashes said.
Like most Florida houses built before the turn of the twentieth century, the Dudley farmhouse does not have an attached kitchen. Like the three-seater outhouse, the kitchen is located a safe distance from the house. It has an attached porch, basins for hot and cold water (there was no running water at the farm in the late nineteenth century) and an antique Wood & Coleman wood stove that is still used today. Once a month park volunteer Val Leitner uses the wood stove to cook up some of the best biscuits, country fried steak and venison, and pumpkin pie that have ever been made. These sinfully delicious meals are a foolproof way to recruit new volunteers.
Cattle, mules, turkeys and chickens punctuate the air with authentic farm sounds. Living history re-enactors use mules to plow the earth, demonstrate blacksmithing skills and make cane syrup during special events at the state park. Annual living history events include Reconstruction, Quilt Day, Kids Day and the annual Fall Farm and Cane Festival.
Dudley Farm is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This 325-acre park contains more than 18 historic yellow pine buildings.
The park is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; the actual homestead closes at 4 p.m. To schedule a tour for a group of up to 40 people contact the park at 352-472-1142 and leave a message with your group name, phone number, a requested date and the number of people who will join the tour. Self-guided tours are also available.
For directions and more information visit the Dudley Farm Historic State Park Web site.