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Hernando’s historic manor house and cannery gain new nonprofit management

County Commission signs leases for Chinsegut Hill and the Little Rock Cannery.

BROOKSVILLE — Two of Hernando County’s historical treasures will get a new lease on life thanks to agreements signed Tuesday by the County Commission.

Chinsegut Hill, which has struggled for years to develop a sustainable business plan, and the Little Rock Cannery, which over lean budget years has been the poster child for county services to cut, each will have new outside management.

Two organizations stepped forward to help Chinsegut, one to run the historical manor house and the other to manage the cabins and conference center. Hernando County is the tenant of Chinsegut Hill, which as a historical site is subject to the rules of the National Historical Preservation Act and the National Register of Historic Places program.

County officials negotiated terms with the Tampa Bay History Center to run the manor house and with Mid Florida Community Services to run the cabins and conference center. Each is a nonprofit, and each will have a license agreement to operate its assigned portion of the property for $150 annually, paid to the general fund.

Tampa Bay History Center will use the manor house for tours, weddings, training, conferences, photo and artist events, interpretive and educational programs and community events.

The organization hopes to "increase its geographic impact and expand its preservation efforts by providing curatorial and interpretive services to ensure Chinsegut Hill’s history is preserved and shared with the public, including cataloging, condition assessment and care of the contents of the manor house, operating the manor house as a museum and hosting special events,'' according to the commission backup materials.

The history center will develop materials highlighting Chinsegut’s history, will train volunteer docents and will work with the county to promote and preserve the manor house. The arrangement will reduce county staff time spent on maintaining and preserving items inside the house.

An interior sitting room at the manor house at the historical Chinsegut Retreat and Museum in Brooksville. [ MICHELE MILLER | Times ]

C.J. Roberts, president and chief executive officer for the center, told commissioners that the history center welcomes the chance to extend its regional reach and tell wider tales of this area’s past.

"Chinsegut Hill has many, many stories to tell,'' he said.

Spring Hill resident Ross Lamoreaux, a historical interpreter for the center, will be on site at the manor house. He said he looked forward to working with volunteers and has been working with Hernando County and Dade City historical groups.

Mid Florida will use the Chinsegut conference center, dining hall, classroom, caretaker’s house, cottages and related facilities to host weddings, conferences, retreats and community events. The organization plans to direct all profits from its work to services it provides for Hernando County’s low-income and vulnerable residents.

In addition to its lease payment, Mid Florida will pay 10 percent of its annual profits in the third year and the years after that to the county to offset expenses in the general fund. The organization also will begin paying for utilities and maintenance.

Mid Florida’s community engagement director, Ashley Hofecker, detailed the community service programs that will benefit from the new funding -- from Meals on Wheels and Head Start to the Children’s Advocacy Center and the Trans Hernando Transportation Service.

County Administrator Jeff Rogers said involving Mid Florida in the project is a plus, because "the funding will go back to the citizens of this county.''

The cottages of Chinsegut Retreat and Museum in Brooksville are used by those attending functions including weddings, and artistic and corporate retreats. Each has four bedrooms with private bath and shower as well as shared living and dining areas. [ MICHELE MILLER | Times ]

In the second of the day’s announcements, the Hernando Growers Association will take over operation of the Little Rock Cannery, which closed more than a year ago. Several organizations over the years have pitched plans to run the historic facility but without any long-term success.

The Grower’s Association also is a nonprofit and hopes to expand the cannery’s programs, provide educational classes and resume the traditional canning classes and operations with a more rigorous schedule, according to Growers Association president Michael DeFelice.

He said he hopes to support economic development through the cannery in several ways, including providing a commercial kitchen for agricultural entrepreneurs.

The Little Rock Cannery is a self-serve facility for Hernando County residents to prepare and preserve fruits, vegetables, seafood and meats.

The annual lease will be $1 a year. The organization is expected to maintain the facility and to seek grant funding for its operation. The annual budget of the cannery was nearly $75,000 in 2018 and dropped to about $7,500 in the past year.

County commissioners expressed support for the community partners stepping up to help Chinsegut and the Cannery, noting they are established organizations with the ability to make the facilities sustainable.

Commissioner John Allocco remembered how others had failed to maintain enthusiasm within a volunteer organization to run programs such as the cannery. But with DeFelice’s support from local agricultural interests, Allocco anticipated ongoing success.

As for making the hard-to-find cannery more visible at the busy intersection of Citrus Way and U.S. 98, Allocco suggested that state officials planning to build a roundabout at that site place a huge canning jar in the middle.