BROOKSVILLE — Although he has been dead for more than 60 years, the legacy of developer John C. Emerson is abundant around Brooksville.
The Hernando County library building at Howell and Fort Dade avenues, the Hernando Park band shell that stands near it, the downtown post office, plus dozens of other structures throughout the city stand as testaments to Emerson's vision of a comfortable, stylish community that residents would be proud to call home.
At Brooksville City Hall on Thursday evening, dozens of people — including nearly every local resident with the last name of Emerson — gathered to honor their ancestor, who was selected as the recipient of the 2013 Great Brooksvillian award.
Mayor Lara Bradburn referred to Emerson as a forward-thinking man who helped transform the city during the early part of last century from a sleepy, Southern town into modern municipality.
"The concept of housing developments was still pretty new during the 1930s and 1940s," Bradburn said. "And it might not have happened here as it did had it not been for that desire he had to make the community a better place to live."
Born in 1892 in North Dakota, Emerson moved to Brooksville in the early 1900s. He married Olivette McGeachy of Dade City in 1916, and they raised three children. The following year, he joined the Army and served as a sergeant during World War I before returning home to start his business.
Emerson, who died in 1951 at the age of 59, never ran for public office. However, City Council member Joe Johnston pointed out that he earned a reputation that went far beyond his ability as a builder. A well known philanthropist, Emerson often donated materials and labor for community projects, including the city's first permanent library building, and was noted for supporting a number of education and youth programs.
According to his granddaughter, Leigh Steiner, Emerson was so moved by the heroics of American troops serving in frigid climates during World War II that he bought and shipped thousands of blankets overseas.
In addition, Emerson and his family donated land on which the present-day Hernando High School was built. The school's baseball field is named for him.
Although none of his own children are alive, the Emerson family was well represented at the ceremony. Among those in attendance were grandsons John Emerson, the county's property appraiser, and Steve Emerson, vice president at SunTrust Bank in Brooksville.
"Our entire family felt this was a great honor to the memory of my grandfather," John Emerson said. "He loved Brooksville with all his heart."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.