Chinsegut Hill: From activist owners to the hands of public universities
This is the third installment of a four-part series on USF’s Chinsegut Hill.
Chinsegut Hill’s beauty had not diminished, but it was the end of an era in 1954. Raymond Robins, the prominent political thinker who owned the estate for over 50 years with his wife Margaret, was dead. Robins had given the estate to the government when he lost his fortune in the Great Depression. He, in turn, was allowed to live on the site free of property tax.
With Margaret and Raymond Robins dead, the U.S. Department of Agriculture offered the summit of the hill — and the historic Manor House — for rent with an option to buy. The University of Florida signed a four-year lease and used the site as a library with a collection of 8,000 books about labor issues Robins had left behind. Botanical field trips visited regularly from Gainesville.
With the expiration of the lease in 1958, UF removed the valuable books and most of the furniture to Gainesville, effectively abandoning the property. USF took over the estate in 1958 by signing a four-year lease just as UF had. It became USF’s first building, as the structures on the Tampa Campus were still under construction. Administrators and faculty gathered at the site regularly for meetings and tea socials. To help improve the services of the budding university, faculty and administrators met at the manor with students to solicit advice.
USF signed a 20-year lease for the property in 1962. Since then, it has expended enormous effort to preserve and restore the property. In the 1960s, historic preservation was not considered very important. So-called “urban renewal” devastated Ybor City here in Tampa, and Chinsegut’s sprawling Manor House was valued at a mere $1,000 in 1962.
Thankfully for Florida’s heritage, USF has had the vision to maintain and preserve the impressive mansion. Historic preservation is not easy or cheap, and credit is due to USF’s administration, Physical Plant, and Auxiliary Services for their invaluable contributions in preserving Florida’s history.
The federal government transferred the title of Chinsegut Hill from the USDA to USF in 1982, when the 20-year lease expired and USF fulfilled its obligations. In addition to saving the Manor House, USF installed cabins on the site in the 1970s. Other facilities include a dining room, a classroom, and a maintenance shop.
In recent years, new cabins have brought a raised level of comfort to the site. Visitors are sure to be impressed by the excellent facilities, the beautiful grounds, and the Manor House. USF should be proud of its preservation accomplishments at the hill.
You can help preserve history, too. Reserve cabins for a conference, family reunion, wedding, or retreat. Relax, walk the nature trails, play sports, and tour the Manor House, all while doing your part to preserve a wonderful piece of our heritage.
For more information about Chinsegut Hill, visit http://www.auxsvc.usf.edu/chinsegut.asp