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City's past inspires another history book

A trolley came through here once, right up to where Beach Boulevard opens to the sea.

The trolley from St. Petersburg that brought civilization to this former fishing village is long gone, but Gulfport historian Lynne Brown traces the route easily, pointing at an old grid map of the city.

Brown, 68, was not born in Gulfport. But in the 30 years since she moved here, she has come to know more about her adopted hometown than nearly anyone else.

Her devotion to Gulfport is basic. The city has given her something more important than a birthplace. It is the subject of her recent book.

She finished writing Gulfport: A Definitive History, Volume Two last month. It is a small tome that leans heavily on oral history, newspaper clippings, and early city records to tell the tale of how a city that was once accessible primarily by sailboat found modernity. The first volume was published in 2004.

Like many young Florida cities, Gulfport's history is brief. The city was founded in 1910, but the book begins during the Civil War and continues to 1950.

It is the first comprehensive history of Gulfport composed from both personal histories and data.

It is also Brown's baby, her hard earned accomplishment.

She was born in New Hampshire, and educated outside of Boston. When she was 21, she graduated from Boston University with a journalism degree. Weary of the low wages and long hours that define a career in newspapers, she entered advertising instead.

Still, she dreamed of writing.

In 1978, her husband, Lee, retired from the Navy. He wanted to be warm. They moved to Gulfport.

Brown slowly immersed herself in her new city. She opened an art store along Beach Boulevard. She won a seat on the City Council. She joined the Gulfport Historical Society.

Then, in 1999, a representative from Arcadia Publishing, a small company based in Mount Pleasant, S.C., that specializes in local history, called the Gulfport Historical Museum. They wanted a book of photos on Gulfport.

In just six months, Brown, who is a volunteer director of the museum, assembled 128 pages of photos that would later be published as Gulfport: Images of America. It was her first book.

For Brown, the grainy images inspired more questions than answers. So many of the pictures had been donated to the museum with little information about the people the cameras had captured.

It was a puzzle she wanted to solve. So when The History Press, a publishing company based in Charleston, S.C., called in 2004 looking for someone to put together a book on Gulfport's history, she told them she was already working on one. They published Volume One that same year.

They weren't interested in a second volume, but Brown wasn't finished with her puzzle. She continued to write.

If she cannot find a publisher, she said she will pay to print it herself.

It only matters that the story is finished.

Cristina Silva can be reached at 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.

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