One of the early 20th century developers of land where Gulfport is now located was recently discovered at the Webster Flea Market in Sumter County, north of Tampa.
Well, to be exact, a framed oil painting of Civil War veteran John F. Chase was found by Tampa resident Braxton Bradford, a retired art librarian for the Tampa Public Library.
Chase was instrumental in naming what is now Gulfport as “Veteran City” and starting streetcar service at a dedication ceremony held in 1905, according to the book “Images of America, Gulfport” by Lynn S. Brown. The big visitor draw in the area at the time was a dancing casino on a wooden pier that opened on January 14, 1906.
“I was at the flea market and one of the vendors in the back had on the ground,” said Bradford.
That was about five years ago.
He did some research about the painting and tried to sell it but was unsuccessful. Then, he decided it needed a new home.
“It took up a lot of wall space,” said his wife, Kathy Bradford. “Our entire home is like a museum.”
That’s when he contacted the Gulfport Historical Museum.
“When he first contacted us, we took a step back wondering, ‘Who is this guy? Is it true?’” said Christine Brown, chairperson of the Gulfport Historical Society board of directors. “Sure enough, it was.”
In the early afternoon on Tuesday, March 14, Brown met Bradford for the first time at the museum in Gulfport when he brought the painting to donate it.
“The painting needs some cleaning and touching up where it’s flaking, but I’m glad it has found it’s rightful home,” said Bradford.
The museum has a file about Chase and photocopies of newspaper clippings, some of which contain images, but they didn’t have a good likeness of him until they received Bradford’s gift.
“It’s such a great opportunity,” said Brown. “I’m so excited to do some research and get the painting cleaned up so it can be presented to the community.”
On March 14, Brown won her re-election bid for Gulfport Ward 2 council seat. On the same day, and after she accepted the painting at the museum, she did a planned resignation after serving on the Historical Society board for 20 years.
“I was ready to take a step back,” she said. “I want to do some more things with the city.”
One of those things involves the painting of Chase.
“With the campaign contributions I have left over, I’m going to donate them to the museum and then the painting can be fixed,” said Brown.