BROOKSVILLE — For Jan Knowles, the time to celebrate has come at last.
For the past four years, Knowles and other members of the Friends of Chinesgut Hill have poured their hearts and souls into saving the historic manor house at Chinsegut Hill. Destined to end up on the state's list of surplus properties, the effort was touch-and-go as the nonprofit group desperately sought a partner that believed the 165-year-old landmark was worth keeping in public hands.
The clouds finally lifted in June when Hernando County entered into a lease agreement, naming the Friends group as steward of the historic edifice and its surrounding 114 acres. A few weeks later, the skies brightened with news that state lawmakers had approved a $1.5 million grant to pay for the restoration.
So Knowles, who is president of the Friends, is excited that the public can once again visit the picturesque home when the organization hosts the First Chinsegut Hill Celebration next weekend. The free event is centered around raising the remaining money needed to match a $50,000 challenge grant offered by the philanthropic Felburn Foundation.
"It's exciting to us because the community always stood behind us, and now we want them to be able to come and see what they helped to make happen," Knowles said. "There is still a long, long way to go, and a lot of work to do. But I think people will be amazed at the progress that's made so far."
The celebration kicks off at 6 p.m. Friday with a members-only reception and silent auction, with entertainment and a special "taste" presentation by several local restaurants, including Florida Cracker Kitchen, Coney Island Drive-Inn, Mallie Kyla's Cafe, Pearl in the Grove, the Tilted Teacup and Papa Joe's Italian Restaurant. In addition, appetizers will be provided by student chefs from Hernando High School.
Knowles said visitors will be able to learn more about Chinsegut Hill's storied history, which predates the Civil War, through a presentation by former University of South Florida professor Gary Mormino. Knowles and Friends executive director Christie Anderberg will also detail plans for the facility.
Saturday's public event will allow visitors to tour portions of the Chinsegut Hill grounds and take part in a variety of activities, including a juried arts and crafts show featuring local and regional artists, "pioneer" style games and live entertainment.
Although the manor house is not yet open to the public, visitors will be able to see the extensive restoration process that is well under way and the progress that has been made to upgrade the surrounding cabins and outbuildings.
"We hope to be able to allow visitors to be able to tour the inside of the manor house by this time next year," Anderberg said. "But for now, all we can offer is a glimpse of what the future will bring."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.