BROOKSVILLE — The nonprofit group that wants to renovate and restore the historic Chinsegut Hill manor house got some good news last week with the offer of a $50,000 challenge grant from an Ocala philanthropic organization.
Christie Anderberg, a board member of the Friends of Chinsegut, the local preservation group trying to save the facility, said the grant, awarded by the Felburn Foundation, will help as it asks Hernando County to lease the 164-year-old manor house and its surrounding buildings and grounds from the state.
"Having (the grant) in place puts us one step further along toward our goal," Anderberg said.
Founded in the 1990s by the family of the late philanthropist Phil Felburn, the foundation has been instrumental in funding libraries, wildlife parks and museums throughout Central Florida.
The Friends group applied for the grant last year in the hope of raising enough capital to pay for restoration of the manor house and make it available again for public use. According to Anderberg, the challenge grant, which will match dollar for dollar any contributions made to the Friends up to $50,000, has no expiration date.
Formed in 2008, the nonprofit Friends of Chinsegut began spearheading the effort to save the manor house, retreat and conference center facilities — on 114 acres — after learning the University of South Florida was abandoning its lease after 40 years.
Despite raising more than $15,000 in private donations, plus a $30,000 restoration grant from the state Division of Historical Resources, the organization was never able to find a willing agency to act as a leasing partner until the Hernando County Commission agreed last fall to back a multiyear lease, which it plans to present to the state in the coming weeks.
Last week, the Friends agreed to spend $14,100 to hire Preservation Resource of Brooksville to evaluate the three-story antebellum structure and come up with an estimate on how much it would cost to restore it.
Anderberg said that although her group is pursuing additional state grants to pay for the restoration effort, the Felburn grant will likely be used to ready the manor house, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, to once again become the centerpiece of a multi-use education and nature center.
Meanwhile, Anderberg said her group is actively raising money and hopes to begin having public events at the facility as soon as possible, after the county officially signs the lease.
"We've still got a long way to go," she said. "But at least things are starting to look positive. There's a lot of excitement in the air now."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.