Photos courtesy of Tampa Bay History Center
A frontier outpost. An Antebellum plantation. A progressive-era gathering spot. A conservation site. A grand, large-scale classroom that teaches valuable lessons of nature and history.
They say that every house tells a story. In the case of the Chinsegut Hill Historic Site, every room tells a story, as do the surrounding grounds; with all of these historical parables collected into a beautiful 'built book' of sorts--a book closed to the public in summer 2019, when the site shut its doors.
Officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Hernando County’s Chinsegut Hill Historic Site--22495 Chinsegut Hill Road, Brooksville--reopened to the public Saturday, August 1, now operating and offering guided tours every Saturday and Sunday under a partnership between the Tampa Bay History Center and the Hernando County Board of County Commissioners, with help from Mid Florida Community Services, Inc. Self-guided tours are not available.
"At the Tampa Bay History Center, we tell stories of history," said Manny Leto, Director of Marketing and Communications at the Tampa Bay History Center. "We have high tech exhibits and films. With this house, we now have a historic place. A home with hallways and a porch--something hard to replicate."
Indeed, the three-story, 5,100 square feet ivory-hued manse boasts broad porches, classically designed windows and structure, and brims within with classic furniture, photographs and documents. The home sits majestically atop 114 scenic acres, forming an ornamental landscape upon which once grew a pine forest--and upon which has been discovered ancient ceramic fragments and stone implements emblematic of the prehistoric era (https://www.tampabayhistorycenter.org/chinsegut/).
"Each room represents a period in history," said Leto. "Not just the home's history, but the history of Florida. And the grounds tell their own stories."
Situated on the second-highest geographical point in the state of Florida, the Chinsegut Hill site, read a related release, "has been witness to the gatherings of Florida’s early people dating back thousands of years, to pioneers settling at the time of the Second Seminole War, and to the emancipation of enslaved people following the Civil War. During the 1920s, new owners of the home hosted such luminaries as Thomas Edison, Helen Keller, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and others." Chinsegut stands among Florida’s few remaining pre-Civil War plantation sites.
The story of this home is told through the eyes of the families who inhabited these rooms and lands, such as the members of the Ederington and Snow families--members of which are buried on the lands, and the enslaved individuals who made homes and planted crops on and around the hill. The names of luminaries such as emancipated slave turned landowner Elizabeth Carr Washington are remembered. Another historical luminary who resided here was Margaret Robins, a progressive activist and head of the National Women’s Trade Union League from 1907 to 1922. She and husband Raymond, also a progressive activist, heralded this hill “Chinsegut,” an Inuit word that translates to mean “where lost things are found.”
In later years, the U.S. government’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and USDA established outposts at this site, where they conducted conservation projects and agricultural research experiments that aided Florida farmers (https://www.tampabayhistorycenter.org/chinsegut/).
"The federal government deeded Chinsegut to the University of Florida in 1958 and, shortly thereafter, UF leased it to the University of South Florida," read the Chinsegut history page of the Tampa Bay History Center website (https://www.tampabayhistorycenter.org/chinsegut/). "USF built the guest cabins that stand today and oversaw the property until 2008. USF administrators and professors held conferences, workshops and retreats at the home."
From 2008 to 2019, the Friends of Chinsegut Hill and Hernando County assumed management of the property and hosted tours and accommodations before the site's closing.
Now the Tampa Bay History Center, and Mid Florida Community Services, Inc., have joined Hernando County and community members to return the experience of Chinsegut to Hernando County; providing curatorial and interpretive services for Chinsegut Hill. A Smithsonian Affiliate and an American Alliance of Museums-accredited institution, the Tampa Bay History Center showcases “Historic Hillsborough” County--which in the mid-19th century comprised much of the Gulf Coast, including all or part of 24 present-day counties--at its 60,000 square-foot facility on Tampa’s Riverwalk, which includes three floors of permanent and temporary exhibition galleries spotlighting 12,000 years of Florida’s history (https://www.tampabayhistorycenter.org/overview/). Mid Florida Community Services, Inc. is a mid-size nonprofit 501(c)(3) Community Action agency "dedicated to eliminating the causes of poverty through a comprehensive service delivery approach. Ongoing funding and resources are primarily obtained from “pass through” grants originating at the federal and state levels. The agency also relies heavily on local donors, partners, in-kind contributions, fundraising activities, and volunteer support as a key strategy to long term sustainability." (https://www.mfcs.us.com/who-we-are/index ).
"Over the spring and summer, History Center staff was hard at work researching the history of the (Chinsegut) site, meticulously cataloging artifacts, designing new interpretive signage for the property, and training docents and guides to offer tours of the historic house and grounds," read a related news release.
Guided tours of the historic house's first-floor museum will be available on Saturdays and Sundays every half hour, 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Admission for all guests is $5, and the last tour each day runs 4 p.m. The house museum will be available by appointment for group tours of 8 or more. Advance tickets are available for purchase online. And due to the continuing spread of COVID-19 and for the safety of the staff, volunteers and fellow visitors, the wearing of face masks will be required when touring the house museum. Capacity in the house museum is limited. Therefore, timed-entry tickets are available for advance purchase online. Visit https://www.tampabayhistorycenter.org/chinsegut/ to purchase tickets.
Guests must practice social distancing and can use sanitation stations throughout the Chinsegut House.
"Chinsegut Hill is a historical gem of Florida, and its location in Hernando County provides just one more reason for people to visit our County," said John Mitten, Chair, County Commission of Hernando County, District 1. "The recent partnership with the Tampa Bay History Center and Mid-Florida Community Services will help preserve history, increase tourism, and telling the story of our State, all on one of the most beautiful locations in Florida."
Manny Leto agrees.
"Chinsegut is a treasure for the community."