BROOKSVILLE — Most people would agree that the 163-year-old Chinsegut Hill manor house is among the most photographed edifices in Hernando County, with the earliest known images dating to the early 1900s.
But thanks to advanced 3-D technology and the endeavors of a team of spatial engineers from the University of South Florida, the storied structure now has a new photographic record that will provide valuable information to future generations of historians.
The recently completed project by the university's Alliance for Integrated Spatial Technologies involved setting up sophisticated terrestrial laser scanning cameras throughout the manor house to capture images that were later strung together to create a rolling three-dimensional "flyover" video image. The project took place in the spring during the early phase of an extensive $1.5 million restoration that is set to be completed by early September.
Friends of Chinsegut Hill director Christie Anderberg said the team spent several weeks at the site and was allowed access to areas of the structure that had been dismantled to replace rotting wood. The completed photos offered a rare glimpse of the dwelling, the construction of which began in 1851.
As a knowledgeable expert on the manor house, Anderberg has seen nearly every existing early photo of the home. The new three-dimensional photos capture a character of the structure she hadn't thought much about until now.
"It must have been a very comfortable place to live," she said. "It's very sturdy and well built. You can't imagine it ever falling down. No matter what."
One of Hernando County's oldest homesteads, Chinsegut Hill dates to 1847, when Col. Byrd Pearson laid claim to the land and surrounding acres to build a home and cultivate sugar cane. Four years later, he sold the house and property to Francis Ederington, who began construction on most of the original house that stands today. Additions and alterations were made in the 1850s and 1860s by subsequent owners, but the most substantial and historically significant period of the house is associated with its early to middle 20th century owners, Raymond and Margaret Robins.
Work on restoring the home to the period of the Robins family began in December with the replacement of the foundation. Since then, the work has progressed to upper areas of the house that had suffered from decades of neglect when the manor house served as a conference and education center for USF. Two weeks ago, crews completed installation of new wood siding and window frames. Installation of a new roof will begin in two weeks, Anderberg said.
While restoration of the edifice is the primary goal behind the $1.5 million grant awarded last year by the Florida Legislature, it included about $200,000 for archaeological research of the property and its surroundings as well. Anderberg said that the effort led to the discovery of what is believed to be the foundation footings of Pearson's original log cabin, built in 1842.
Anderberg believes that the archaeological dig around the property could also help fill in some gaps in the facility's history as a plantation that once produced sugar cane using slave labor.
"We've already found quite a few artifacts, nails, some plates, lead shot, even a quarter dated 1878," she said. "It's very exciting to know there could be more waiting to be found."
One of the more remarkable things about the 3-D project is that unlike a static photograph, the image can be manipulated and added to over time, thus allowing viewers to have a comparable view of the home at various phases throughout its history. She envisions the project will also have a special attraction for tech-savvy young people.
"It's high technology that appeals to kids," she said. "Someday soon, people everywhere will be able to go on Google Earth and learn all about Chinsegut Hill. That's a great thing."
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or [email protected]