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John and Susan Bishop and grandson John Morton
John and Susan Bishop and Grandson John Morton

Today’s Chinsegut Wildlife and Environmental Area was once part of 6,000 acres staked from the U.S. government in 1842 by Colonel Pearson of South Carolina and sold ten years later to Colonel F.H. Ederington. The area later became home to pioneer famers John and Susan Bishop, who timbered out much of the virgin longleaf pine. Resin was extracted from many of the remaining pine trees, some of which still bear the distinctive “cat-face” scars where the bark was cut away. Only a chimney and two cisterns remain as evidence of the Bishop’s rural homestead.

Colonel Raymond Robbins and his wife Margaret
Colonel Raymond Robbins and his wife Margaret

In 1904, 2,082 acres were purchased by Colonel Raymond Robins, an attorney who served as an economic advisor to five presidents. Raymond’s sister, Elizabeth Robins, was a successful actress and author who helped provide the needed capital to purchase the large parcel. He named the area “Chinsegut,” an Alaskan Inuit word that means “spirit of lost things.” Robins expanded the translation as “the place where things of true value that have been lost may be found again.” In 1932, Robins deeded his estate to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) under the Migratory Bird Conservation Act to be preserved for “inspiration and education of the next generation.”

 An FWC biologist recommended acquiring the acreage for outdoor education after a white-tailed deer study was conducted there in 1956. In 1967, the USDA allowed the Commission to operate a nature preserve on what became the Conservation Center Tract in 1973. The adjoining tract of virgin longleaf pine was deeded to the University of Florida that same year. In 1986, the Hernando County Audubon helped build a nature center and the 430-acre Big Pine Tract was transferred to the FWC for educational purposes in 1989.  In 2009, The Nature Conservancy donated two parcels, six and nineteen acres in size, adjacent to the Big Pine Tract.