Fortuitous timing, and a generous Florida Legislature, helped to further the effort to obtain control of and restore one of Hernando County's most notable landmarks this year.
Once threatened to be "surplused" and offered up for sale by the state, the 164-year-old Chinsegut manor house and its surrounding 114 acres got a new lease on life in May with signing of a five-year contract whereby the Hernando County Commission named the nonprofit Friends of Chinsegut Hill as overseer of the facility's restoration. More good news followed when the Legislature appropriated $1.5 million from the Florida Division of Historical Resources to complete the restoration job.
For four decades, the elegant antebellum mansion, whose origins date back to the 1840s, served as a University of South Florida conference center and education retreat that included several cabins, a dining hall and storage facilities. But little was done to protect the structure from termites, wood rot and structural deterioration.
Even though no formal agreement existed to turn the property over to a governmental partner, the Friends of Chinsegut began raising money in 2009 in the hope that some day the edifice could be brought back to its former glory. Eventually, Hernando County government agreed to lease the property from the state.
Restoration of the manor house got under way in late July with replacement of rotting cypress sill beams, a time-consuming process that required separating the it from its foundation.
Meanwhile, the Friends got more good news when the group learned it received a $50,000 challenge grant from the philanthropic Felburn Foundation. A fundraiser in November sought to raise money to match the grant.
Friends president Jan Knowles said the group is working toward holding more public events during the coming year. She hopes to have the manor house ready for public tours by fall.
Logan Neill, Times staff