Sometimes you find special places in your life. Sometimes those special places seem to find you, or some part of you you hadn’t known before. The beautiful estate known as Chinsegut Hill can tell scholars much about the history of Florida.
Chinsegut Hill is one of the few antebellum-era manor houses still standing in Florida, perched atop one of the highest elevations in the state. Its recorded history, when viewed through the lens of the well-preserved manor house and the peaceful landscape, seems like a quaint story of self-reliant pioneers who tamed the land. Of course, upon deeper inspection, Chinsegut’s history is far more complicated but no less inspirational, including the forced removal of natives, slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Great Depression, progressivism, the New Deal of the 1930s, racial reconciliation, the Cold War, higher education, cinema, and so much more.
The University of South Florida began leasing the site back in 1958, when the school was in the planning stages. After USF opened in 1960, it used the site as a conference center for classes, workshops, and administrative retreats. In the 1980s and 90s, USF constructed several cabins on the site to expand the conference center. In 2003, I led the university’s successful effort to list Chinsegut on the National Register of Historic Places. USF stopped leasing the site in 2008, and Hernando County and a private Friends of Chinsegut Group run and maintain the site today.
The word chinsegut is a Innuit word meaning, “A place where lost dreams/memories are found,” which seems appropriate given a recent turn of events. In August 2020, the Tampa Bay History Center, a close partner of the libraries, began to interpret the site’s history and hold educational events there for the public. This broad effort includes exhibits, tours, lectures, and the interpretation of artifacts and the manor house itself.
To learn more about the history and future of one of Florida’s most bewitching places, join the USF Libraries and Tampa Bay History Center for a free, online “Florida Conversation” Wednesday, April 21st at 6:30PM. The History Center’s Curator of Public History Dr. Brad Massey, Collections Registrar Heather Culligan, and I will team up to explore the rich history and artifacts of Chinsegut Hill.
Click here to register for the event. For more information, contact the History Center at (813) 228-0097.