ZEPHYRHILLS — Turning the Capt. Jeffries house into a showcase for military history could be a great start to creating a tourism niche for the city, Mayor Danny Burgess believes.
"Dade City has antiques," said Burgess. "Our heritage really is in our military roots."
The city already has the restored World War II barracks museum, filled with artifacts from area veterans.
Army fighter pilots trained at what was known then as the Zephyrhills Army Airfield in the early 1940s; the airfield was donated to the city after the war.
Now the city has an opportunity to build on that history by partnering with Ron and Lila Bushaw, a Plant City couple who have been collecting World War II uniforms and memorabilia for 15 years.
Burgess invited the Bushaws to last week's City Council meeting to talk about their collection, which includes 380 uniforms representing every American unit that fought in the war, along with numerous allied units.
One uniform Bushaw displayed at the meeting belonged to a paratrooper who jumped on D-day and was in the Battle of the Bulge with Easy Company of the 506th Division. The nameless soldier earned the Silver Star, the military's third-highest award for combat heroism.
"He lives in eternity," said Bushaw. "But this is typical of the uniforms in our collection. More than half are from those who earned the Silver Star."
Bushaw said he has been able to match names to about 35 percent of the uniforms. He has identifying serial numbers for roughly 95 percent, though, and now that he's retired, plans to find as many names as possible.
The Bushaws have participated in a few veteran events with displays of their uniforms but are looking for a permanent place to display the collection.
Burgess thinks the Jeffries house is just the place.
The house, bank-owned and vacant for the past two years, is falling into disrepair. Built around 1910 for the city's founder, civil war veteran Capt. Howard B. Jeffries, it claimed a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
Worried the house could be lost, Burgess brought the idea of buying it to the city's community redevelopment agency in June. The agency, comprised of City Council members, agreed to look into the possibility. The council last month moved forward with getting an appraisal on the property and is waiting for a report from a historical architect.
Council members were impressed with the presentation.
"We're rapidly losing our World War II heroes," said council member Charlie Proctor, who mentioned his father's WWII service. "I'm behind something like this."
Council President Lance Smith thanked the couple, but cautioned no decision has been made on whether to buy the house. If the city does purchase it, it may be required by law to seek proposals from others interested in leasing the house.