The Spirit of Lost Things
The 114 acres of land that now make up Chinsegut Hill and its surrounding preserve were first owned by a Colonel Pearson in 1842. Ten years later Pearson sold the property and the home he had built there to Colonel Francis N. Ederington. Ederington’ s granddaughter would go on to marry Colonel Russell Snow. When Snow took control of the acreage he named it Snow Hill. USF’s Special Collections holds many of the papers and letters relating to the Snow family and their business dealings. The Ederington and Snow families built up the small home that Pearson left behind into the expansive antebellum manor that stands there today. In the time of the Ederington and Snow families, Snow Hill was a functioning plantation. The family did own enslaved people and their plantation produced mainly sugar cane, cotton, as well as livestock and citrus crops.
In 1904 the property was purchased by a Colonel Raymond Robins. Robins had been an advisor to five different presidents and he, as well as his sister and his wife, had a wide range of political and social connections.Robins and his wife, Margaret were both known labor reformers. Margaret was also said to be fond of hosting, which accounts for the many guests they invited over the years.During the time the Robins family lived at Chinsegut Hill, per local legend, hosted a number of famous guests. These guests include Thomas Edison, J.C. Penney, Hellen Keller, and the famous Florida folk author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Robins gave the property the name we still refer to it by today, Chinsegut Hill. Chinsegut being an Alaskan Inuit word that means “spirit of lost things.” After facing some financial troubles Robins deeded the land to the U.S. government for the purpose of educating future generations, on the condition that he, his wife, and his sister be allowed to live their until their deaths. Raymond Robins was the last of the three alive, he passed in 1954. Immediately following Robins death the land was in possession of the University of Florida.
From the mid-1950s to the 1970s Chinsegut hosted a number of wildlife and conservation studies focused on various topics. The study subjects ranged from white tailed deer to long leaf pines and fulfilled the educational purposes on Robins intent. Chinsegut hosts a variety of native or elusive wildlife on its 114 acres. One example of this is the Brooksville Bellflower, with Chinsegut being one of the only places it is confirmed to grow. These studies came primarily through the local universities. After a period of direct occupation by UF, the land was lent to the University of South Florida as a research station. As with many cases of old Florida attractions and historic sites, after the university left Chinsegut’s use began dwindling. During the pandemic the museum was closed to visitors unfortunately, but in the past few months, Chinsegut has begin to reopen. Now, under the leadership of the Tampa Bay History Center, Chinsegut Hill offers tours every Saturday and efforts have been made to spread the word that this long standing historical site is finally back to being operational.