HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY
Hugh Embry Branch Library
Hugh Embry Library (1976)The following article is taken from East Pasco’s Heritage.
By STEPHANIE POUST
“Dogged determination, dedication, and devotion”—from these ingredients the Hugh Embry Library in Dade City was created.
In 1904 Hugh Embry, having returned to Dade City to recuperate from an illness, found in a short time that he had read all the books available from his family and friends. To a young man who felt that reading was an important part of life, this was a deplorable situation. His solution was to start a library. Going out among friends and neighbors, he quickly collected the sum of fifty dollars. In the early days of this century a book could be bought for less than a dollar; thus in purchasing power he had the equivalent of about five hundred dollars in current market value. For example, the Sears Roebuck catalog at that period offered the following buys:
Mr. Embry started his library under the auspices of the Shakespeare Club. When he died the books became the property of the Pasco Library Association with Mr. A. Roberts as president. Upon the eventual disbanding of the Association, the Dade City Woman’s Club was asked to take charge of the books. Hugh Embry’s mother, Mrs. Sallie Embry, and Mrs. Emily G. Clark were appointed to look after the collection. The books were moved from place to place wherever space was available. Finally a fairly permanent home for them was found in the Woman’s Club building, then standing where the present theater is. Saturday afternoons found the library open under Mrs. Clark and Miss Ruth Cooper. Membership was free to members of the woman’s Club and their families; a small fee of ten cents a month was charged to others.
When the Club moved to its new building on Palm Avenue, this was too far from the center of town and had no room for a library. The books were stored except for two lots of volumes, one of which was presented to the new Grammar School. In the early 1900’s there was no such thing as a school library, so that having anything available other than textbooks was a great treat for the young people of the area. To further encourage the growth of a school library, the Woman’s Club was instrumental in securing books on loan from Gainesville. The Woman’s Club worked with the County Federation of Women’s Clubs in making arrangements to have the rest of the books made available to young people. Library units of twenty-five volumes each were assembled by Mrs. Clark and Mrs. Richardson, and turned over for distribution to the County Home Demonstration Agent. She delivered them to the other schools as she traveled through east Pasco County.
In 1927 the Woman’s Club decided that it was time to reopen the general library, and appointed Mrs. Waldo Richardson Chairman of the Library Committee. Since Mrs. Richardson was a trained librarian, the library got off to a good start. Mr. Herbert Massey offered free use of a room on the second floor of the Massey Building. Thus the Hugh Embry Free Public Library was born, with no charge for its use to anyone in the county. Opening day, July 30, 1927, found the place ready for patrons but short of tables, chairs, and shelving. No money was available from the Woman’s Club treasury because of the new building, so food sales were begun to raise the needed funds.
Dade City had no restaurant at that time. When county workers came to town on the first of each month to get paid, they had to make do for lunch. On August 1, 1927 when the county employees came by horseback or farm wagons (there were few autos) they found they could purchase food on the Courthouse square. The day ended with a profit of fifty dollars. Food sales, rummage, sales, and tag days for the next twenty years continued to support the growing library. The list of Dade City men and women who consistently donated their time and energy to the library is long and distinguished.
A month after the library was opened, there were 440 registered borrowers, and the unit was open three afternoons a week under Mrs. Ruth Batchelor, Mrs. Emily G. Clark, and Mrs. Waldo Richardson. By 1930 the project had gotten too large for the Woman’s Club committee to handle. The library was incorporated August 24, 1930, and remained so for twenty-four years. Then the corporation was dissolved in 1954 to become officially the municipal library of Dade City.
In the early 1930’s Mrs. F. G. Stockbridge moved to Dade City and joined the library association. With plenty of time and a natural talent for the work, she became librarian for the next twenty years.
Slowly, help came from other than private sources. Mr. Fred Touchton, as Mayor, saw to it that the library received ten dollars a month to buy juvenile classics. C. A. Lock persuaded the county to give $12.50 a month, after the school board promised to do the same. After this the city decided to contribute; altogether, the library had all of $37.50 per month to pay a librarian. The facility was open five days a week and on Saturday evenings. There was no budget for books and materials, so the Woman’s Club and numerous citizens continued their fund-raising efforts. Book cards and pockets were made from any surplus paper—wrappings, cardboard, shirt cards, and so on. There are many books still in the library with these makeshifts. Until just recently, most of the books added each year were donated. Most of the volumes purchased were for young people, who used the library widely. In those days before television and little league, the library was a significant influence in juvenile lives. Today’s young adults are reading Jaws. In those days, to the consternation of Mrs. Stockbridge and other ladies, the rage among high school students was The Sheik, which was considered very daring reading.
By 1940 books and patrons overflowed the three rooms furnished by Mr. Massey. Under a WPA project the city completed an unfinished hotel building on Meridian Avenue for the new City Hall, where the library found room. For the only time since 1927, the library was closed temporarily. The movers dumped the books from the second floor window of the Massey Building into waiting trucks, and then onto the floor of the new facility. In two weeks order was restored.
During the next decade the library continued to expand, and needed a separate building. In 1952 the City Commission gave property across from the City Hall for a building site. In April 1953 Senator George Dayton put an act through the legislature allowing the city to assume the assets of the library. On July 12, 1953. Dade City became financially responsible for Hugh Embry Library.
A branch library was opened at Land O’ Lakes for the convenience of patrons there. During the next two years, 15,000 volumes were circulated there.
“Friends of the Library,” with Mrs. Sallie Embry as president, began a drive for the building fund. $12,000 was raised, and then the going was hard. In 1962, Mayor J. S. Burks announced that the city would give $25,000 to the building fund if the Friends of the Library would match it. With this incentive, the remaining money was raised. On November 13, 1963 the library moved into its own home.
Registration for the past few years has increased rapidly, with over 5,000 active card-holders at present. Hours have been increased from forty a week to fifty-six. The story-hour program has been expanded. Today, school classes come weekly to discover what fun and knowledge are available. Presently there are 22,000 volumes, with a thousand new books being added each year. To serve the wide variations in social and economic interests, titles are chosen in a wide range of subjects. Large-print books and Spanish-language books have been added. Many of the new card-holders cone from other library districts, and say that they choose Hugh Embry Library because of its wide variety of reading material. Dade City has a library equal to that of any city its size in America.
In November 1972, Mrs. George Dayton, longtime chairman of the Library Board, told the City Commission that an addition to the present library building was urgently needed. During the bicentennial year of 1976, it is hoped that this need can be met. If so, there will be room for a large quiet study hall, a conference room, display space, and room for presentation of slides and other topics of public interest. Today’s libraries are reaching outside the traditional sphere allotted to them in the past. Hugh Embry Library hopes to keep abreast of the times.
Hugh Cooper Embry was born in 1879 and died in 1907. The web site of the Friends of the Hugh Embry Library has:
Hugh Embry was born in 1879 in Kentucky, the child of tobacco farmers. He was nineteen when his family moved from Kentucky to Dade City in 1897. Tobacco could be grown in central Florida then. He and his six brothers and one sister made themselves at home in Pasco County. In 1904, when 25-year old Hugh was recuperating from an illness, there was no public library in Dade City. Restless and eager to read, he began a drive to secure for his fellow citizens the means to broaden their minds through books. He began soliciting subscriptions of one dollar from each household, and his zeal inspired enthusiasm for a library. A few dozen books were purchased and were lent to subscribers from a library operated out of the Embry home, located on the site of the present US Post Office on Church Avenue. In December of 1905 the Pasco County Library Association was chartered and incorporated. It operated out of the back room of the Bank of Pasco County on the northeast corner of 7th Street and Meridian. That library flourished for several years. Tuberculosis was a ruthless disease in those early years, and it claimed the life of Hugh Embry at the age of 28.
On Aug. 17, 1905, the Tampa Morning Tribune reported, “Hugh Embry’s friends rejoice to know that he is very much improved in health. He is at the Montezuma Ranch resort, Romero, New Mexico, and writes he has gained a pound each week since he has been there.”
On Apr. 13, 1907, the Hopkinsville Kentuckian reported:
Information was received here Thursday of the death of Mr. Hugh Embry at Dade City, Fla., which occurred about ten days since. The deceased was a native of this county, being a son of Mr. and Mrs. Wallace Embry. His death was due to consumption. He was only 27 years of age and was a most excellent Christian character, and during his long illness never complained, and just before breathing his last he called his mother to his side and said: “Mother the time has come for me to leave you and I have no fear of death.” The burial took place at Dade City.
On Jan. 31, 1929, the Pasco County News reported:
The public library has now ben open a year and a half and its phenomenal growth has far exceeded the fondest dreams of those who started it. Over 1000 volumes have been added and there are approximately 800 patrons. As a result the room which the library occupies has become so crowded that it cannot contain the books and magazines that have been donated. Through the efforts of one of the committee the library has secured the use of an adjoining room which is connected with a door with the room now in use. This new room will be used as a reading and reference room and the other room will be a stock and delivery room. Five more sets of shelves are to be made. This has been made possible by a gift of $10 from Mr. and Mrs. Downs, two of our winter visitors. In order buy some more new books and also children's books the library committee will hold a Rummage Sale February 28th, and March 1st and 2nd. The place and other details of the sale will be announced later but we hope everyone will start rummaging now so that the sale may be successful.
Beginning in 1981, the county operated and maintained the library under a no-cost lease.
In June 1988 the City Commission of Dade City approved an agreement with the county for the county to buy the library for $150,000.
In 1991 the library was enlarged with funds from a bond issue approved by the voters in 1986.