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parting way

Chinsegut Hill Manor House

The Chinsegut Hill Manor House (also known as Tiger Tail Hill, Mount Airy, Snow Hill, or simply The Hill) is a U.S. historic site approximately five miles northeast of the city of Brooksville, Florida. It is located at 22495 Chinsegut Hill Road. Begun in the 1840s, the building was added on to over the following decades.

History

With the conclusion of the Second Seminole War (1835-1842) and the passing of the Armed Occupation Act on August 4, 1842, the character of Florida was transformed. Much of the interior of the state -which was devoid of any serious attempt at settlement by whites only ten years before- exploded with the development of plantations. By the eve of statehood, planters maintained that nearly half the population and wealth of the territory was now located in central Florida.

Drawn to central Florida by the opportunity offered by the Armed Occupation Act, Colonel Byrd Pearson from South Carolina laid claim to 5,000 acres in what is now Hernando County. He named his plantation Tiger Tail Hill and began cultivating sugarcane with the use of slave labor. First erected in c. 1847, the oldest section of the Chinsegut Hill manor house –the east wing of the house- was completed just two years after Florida became a state.

In 1851, Pearson sold the property to another South Carolinian emigrant to Florida named Francis Higgins Ederington. Between 1852 and 1854, Ederington constructed what is now the main piece of the manor house.

In 1866, Colonel Russel Snow (also a South Carolinian) married Francis Ederington’s youngest daughter –Charlotte- and gained control of the plantation, renaming it Snow Hill. By the turn of the century large verandas and the entire third floor of the manor house had been added.

The Robins’ Era

Possibly the most historically significant period for the Chinsegut Hill manor house occurred during the stewardship of Raymond and Margaret Robins. Upon his acquisition of the property in 1904, Raymond renamed the property Chinsegut Hill and –along with his wife- set out to improve the grounds. In 1910, the couple added a kitchen to the east wing of the house, a widow’s walk and ventilator, the west chimney, an expanded study, and a music room. The Robins later added four bathrooms (1914), acquired additional land (1917]), added the porte-cochere (1925), and added a fifth bathroom, electricity, and a well (1933).

In addition to their tremendous expansion of the property itself, the Robinses did much to improve the historical significance of the property through their involvement in politics. During the Russian Revolution, Raymond was appointed as the Commissioner of the American Red Cross Mission to Russia where he met with numerous Russian dignitaries including Alexander Kerensky, Leon Trotsky, and Vladimir Lenin. Margaret Robins dined with President Calvin Coolidge in 1923 while her husband was being considered for a cabinet post. In 1928, Raymond was present at the signing of the Pact of Paris and was called upon to help plan the presidential campaign of Herbert Hoover.

The collapse of the stock market in 1929 left the Robins in financial ruin. Using his connections with Herbert Hoover and his administration, Raymond brokered a deal to donate the Chinsegut Hill estate to the government with the stipulation that the couple be allowed to live there until their deaths, free of property taxes.

After years of illness, Margaret Robins died in 1945. Although he remained active in political affairs for several years after his wife’s death, Raymond Robins died in 1954. In the same year the University of Florida signed a four-year lease for the property, intending to use the site as a branch library utilizing Robins' 8,000 volumes.

Famous Guests of Chinsegut Hill

During their occupation of the Chinsegut Hill property, the Robinses entertained countless prominent guests including Soviet ambassadors, Helen Keller, Jane Addams, William Jennings Bryan, Thomas Edison, James Cash Penney, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Senator Claude Pepper, and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes to name a few.

Recent Events and Expansion

In 1958, the lease signed by the University of Florida expired and the university removed the books housed in the manor house, essentially abandoning the property. During the same year the University of South Florida obtained the manor house and surrounding property, signing a four-year lease as the University of Florida had previously.

Under the governance of the University of South Florida, the Chinsegut Hill manor house has undergone several modifications and "modernizations” -in line with the university’s intention to utilize the site as a conference center. The university signed a 20-year lease in 1962 and has since expended vast amounts of time and money to preserve and restore the property. Alterations to the manor house include the removal of the widow’s walk and ventilator due rainwater leakage (1963), construction of several cabins (1972 & 1990’s), a dining room (1982), a classroom (1986]), a maintenance shop (1986]), and a storage shed (1990).

In 1982, the U.S. Department of Agriculture transferred the title of the Chinsegut Hill property to the University of South Florida once the previous lease had expired and the university had fulfilled its obligations regarding the lease.

On November 21, 2003, Chinsegut Hill was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places through a concerted effort by members of the faculty at the University of South Florida.

Controversy

In 1959, Chinsegut Hill was embroiled in the Red Scare. A plaque was commissioned by Lisa von Borowsky -family friend of the Robinses and caretaker of the property- and placed on the ground near the Lenin Oak. The plaque honored the wishes of Raymond Robins to commemorate the Russian Revolution’s leader, Vladimir Lenin. In 1961, a group of Boy Scouts discovered the plaque and reported the find to the Tampa Tribune. During the ensuing media firestorm, the University of South Florida claimed to know nothing of the plaque in an attempt to disassociate the university with pro-communist innuendo. Increased outcry from the media and the general public led to an inquiry in front of a grand jury on May 4, 1961. Forty-three years and three days after Margaret Robins planted the oak tree on the property, Borowsky was forced to testify on her activities as well as those of the Robinses.

During the 1960's, the house had many guests, from visiting researchers to USF faculty and friends. Sadly, many of the small items in the house were removed by visitors. More recently, the Chinsegut Hill manor house and the surrounding property has been plagued by the strain of age and deterioration. Many small outbuildings and a water tower have been demolished. The University of South Florida has done much to maintain the status quo of the property, but has done little to realize any meaningful efforts to restore the manor house to its previous glory. Much of the university’s inaction stems from the history of slavery at the Chinsegut Hill property.

Currently, a small contingent of students from the Honors Program at the University of South Florida has convened in order to present information and new possible uses of the Chinsegut Hill property to the university's administrators.

External links

References

Further reading

  • DeWitt, Dan. "Chinsegut opening is just a 'trial run'." St. Petersburg Times. 3 June 1993.
  • DeWitt, Dan. "Parting way - and parting shots." St. Petersburg Times. 9 September 2001.
  • DeWitt, Dan. "Push is on to fix Manor House." St. Petersburg Times. 4 April 1990.
  • DeWitt, Dan. "To the Manor Reborn." St. Petersburg Times. 24 January 1991.
  • Huse, Andy. "Chinsegut Hill: From activist owners to the hands of public universities." The Oracle. 15 March 2004.
  • Johnson, Neil. "Old manor steeped in history." Tampa Tribune. 29 November 1999.
  • Smiljanich, Dorothy. "The spirit of Chinsegut awaits rediscovery." St. Petersburg Times. (date unknown)

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