The year was 1896 when several prominent Apalachicola Women formed “The Woman’s Reading Club.” The first book purchased was “The Library of American Literature.” In 1899, the ladies learned the library of famed local botanist Dr. Alvan Chapman was for sale and purchased 19 volumes. Shortly thereafter the club reported ordering Dickens works (15 volumes) and various histories, novels and books of poetry which, with other donations, brought the volumes owned to 80 books. A bookcase was made to hold the club books and a member brought the books home; she remained at home on Monday and Wednesday afternoons to give club members the opportunity to use the books.
In 1904, the club adopted the name of Philaco, comprised of “Phil” for love, “Ac” for bravery and the letter O for strength and dignity. The collection continued to grow, and in 1915 the Philaco Woman’s Club established a public library above the Methodist Church Sunday School room with 300 donated books plus a sum of money.
By 1923, when the collection had grown to 2,000 volumes, the old City Hall plus $600 was donated to Philaco. The building was moved to the northeast corner of Battery Park at the cost of $3,000. Members volunteered as librarians, plus the first librarian was employed to work Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. The club maintained this building until 1944 when, along with $700 for repairs, it was deeded to the city of Apalachicola to be used as a youth center.
In 1949 the club won an Honorable Mention award for their participation in a Florida Federation of Women’s Club (FFWC) “Build a Better Community” project. The club reported on their project of moving a small pump house from the Air Force base to Apalachicola for use as a Philaco-owned library. During the 1950s, members held fundraisers and volunteered to cook for other organizations as part of their efforts to maintain the library. They obtained a bank loan to purchase 50 chairs and purchased a sprinkler system for the library grounds which was installed free of charge by the city of Apalachicola. Dr. Dorothy Dodd, state librarian, prepared and read an article on Apalachicola history at the March 1954 Philaco meeting.
Costs of utilities, landscaping and maintenance continued to mount, and the city of Apalachicola was given the deed to the library with the agreement that should they fail to maintain the library, ownership would revert to the Philaco Woman’s Club and if a larger building was to be given for the library, that the present building be reverted to the club. Philaco retained the right to recommend one city commissioner and four Philaco members to serve on the city library board. Three members administered funds.
The mid-to-late ‘50s saw a resurgence of interest in establishing a new library for the city of Apalachicola. City commissioners gave Philaco permission to spearhead the project of raising funds for a new library building. Club past-presidents donated $100 as a gift to start the fund. By 1959, the club reported having $415 in the library fund.
In 1963, the Philaco president addressed the city commission and emphasized the club’s interest in the building of a new library building by the city. A motion was made and passed to sell the old building. In 1964 the president announced that the old library building had been sold for $130.
When a new library was constructed by the city with the help of government grants, Philaco retained the right to recommend a panel from which to choose library board members. The Philaco chairman of the library board brought a list of immediate needs to the attention of Philaco members. Five hundred dollars was withdrawn from the Philaco special library fund and donated to the new library for the purchase of needed items including a copy of the set of Americana encyclopedias and a book truck to be used as a rack for new books. Philaco continued to donate to the Apalachicola Municipal Library with monetary donations, books and memorials to deceased members.
Jump to 1996 when the Philaco president from 1943-44, Margaret Key, died leaving all tangible and real property to the Apalachicola Municipal Library. Eight years later, Shirley Taylor, library advocate, and Joyce Estes, then president, along with the city of Apalachicola petitioned the Circuit Court of the Second Judicial Circuit requesting an accounting of the estate. It was disclosed that a local bank was holding $418,000 in the estate account. The personal representative was ordered to make a final accounting and turn the money over to the city of Apalachicola for the sole benefit of the library.
Taylor has excelled in her efforts in carrying forth the right of Philaco to recommend candidates for the library board to the city commission for approval. Philaco won a FFWC Community Service Award in 2004 for their report of this achievement. The club makes annual cash contributions to the library at their awards banquet. Memorial books continue to be donated to either the Apalachicola or county library for each deceased member.
In 2011, the city of Apalachicola presented a resolution of appreciation to Philaco, honoring 115 years of service to the community.