As the restoration of Chinsegut Hill's 165-year-old Manor House continues, thoughts have turned to uncovering the history of the earliest settlers of the hill.
Work started this week on an archaeological dig that seeks to locate the original log cabin homestead as well as other structures that disappeared long ago.
The nonprofit group that oversees Chinsegut Hill also hopes to unearth answers to a number of mysteries that surround the historic property north of Brooksville.
Friends of Chinsegut Hill executive director Christie Anderberg said that the archaeological exploration will focus on the hill's history as a plantation owned by Col. Byrd Pearson, who originally named it Tiger Tail Hill.
Although Chinsegut Hill's later years are well documented by photographs, maps and journals, relatively little is known about Pearson, who acquired 5,000 acres in 1847 through the Armed Occupation Act and began growing sugarcane with the use of slave labor.
In 1851, he sold the property to Francis Higgins Ederington, who constructed what is now the main part of the house.
Anderberg said that much of what is known from that time is from family letters. But she admits that the descriptions of where the caretakers quarters were located are a vague.
"We have good reason to think that the remnants of at least some of those buildings are still there," Anderberg said.
In charge of the operation is Gary Ellis, director of the Gulf Archaeology Research Institute Inc. of Crystal River, which is performing the dig with money from the $1.5 million state grant the Friends group received last year.
The dig will use a variety of sophisticated tools, such as high-powered metal detectors and ground-penetrating radar. But members of the archaeological team will also dig by hand and take core samples to determine what lies beneath the grounds.
"It's a process that begins with starting at a logical point," Ellis said Monday as he watched co-workers sift through soil surrounding the Manor House. "You act on data you've collected, which in this case are a number of documents and photos, and then you follow those leads."
Ellis, whose company has directed archaeological explorations of a Seminole War-era fort in Micanopy, and numerous other Civil War battlefield sites, said the scope of the initial investigation will likely be limited to finding the ruins of structures such as field houses and slave quarters.
But the archaeologists also plan to search a site where a graveyard is thought to be located. Any artifacts that are recovered will remain the property of the state, which owns the facility.
The archaeological dig is not the only big development for the Friends of Chinsegut, which also announced the reopening of cabins on the hill.
Each of the seven cabins has four bedrooms, four baths and a living, dining and kitchen combination. With enough room for 56 visitors, it will allow the hill to host a wider variety of events and to pull in rental income.
"While so much focus has been on the restoration of the Manor House, the long-range plans have always included overnight rentals in the cottages," Anderberg said, according to a press release from Hernando County.
"We already have four weddings booked for this year and are looking forward to having many more visitors."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.