Stop 52: The 1966 Miss Polly Touchton Park
Disclaimer: “Dade City is so proud of the 2023 transformation of “Miss Polly Touchton Park” into the “Touchton Park” which is occurring with the guidance and sizable benevolent funding of J.Thomas Touchton, grandson of Ruth Embry “Miss Polly Touchton, and expertise of landscape architect, Ted Kempton of Pennoni Associates, Inc.” The park has been referred to as city park since its 1960s inception, and often mistakenly referred to as Hibiscus Park as the adjoining apex park to the south is technically “Hibiscus Park.”
A welcoming location for beautiful Dade City is the luscious green park on Highway 301 which appears as one enters the town from the south side, transcending a rolling hill and traversing north on 301. Frequently, welcoming signs posted at the park, beckon the resident returning home or the guest to savor the entrance into the historic town with warmth and hospitality.
The city park in front of the Dade City Garden Club established in 1966 was named by unanimous vote of the City Commission on May 8, 1988 as the “Miss Polly Touchton Park.” Placement of plaque and addresses by members of the community, family, and representatives from numerous organizations christened the park. The triangular apex in front of the park to the south is known as Hibiscus Park, a term that has often been used to identify both park areas.
The purpose of the dedication of Miss Polly Touchton Park was to honor an extraordinary woman whose heart was the epitome of volunteerism and devotion for the community. The park was named for the late Ruth Marie Embry Touchton (1887-1986) who was lovingly known by all including her family members as “Miss Polly.”
The local newspaper, The Pasco News in 1976, celebrated the enormity of kindness when it recognized a special lady known to all as Miss Polly. This benevolent gal actually grew up in Dade City, with schooling in Dade City and eventually attending Agnes Scott College in Georgia in 1903. Her wedding to Charles Floyd Touchton, Sr. in 1908, was a festive affair with wedding wreaths and Victorian tradition as the Tampa Morning Tribune declared the event to be the “prettiest ceremony ever solemnized.” Mr.Touchton was a founder and early president of the Dade City Board of Trade.
Miss Polly was instrumental in nearly all developing institutions that involved service in Dade City from the Red Cross, public schools, and library to the Dade City Woman’s Club of which her mother, Minerva Caroline “Sallie” Embry was a founding member and “Miss Polly” was a member for 70 years. A leader in the Dade City Garden Club, she coordinated projects. She was also active in the Presbyterian Church where she sang in the choir for 55 years, and the Dade City Orchestra where she played cornet and sold war bonds. She was one of the first to attend to the needs of the community. When one of the organizations decided not to fund the annual girls’ softball team, she contributed personal funds herself. For years, she also served as the “Grey Lady” in the local elementary school for the health clinic.
In 2023, Dade City will celebrate the 125th anniversary of the arrival of “Miss Polly” Embry’s family to Dade City from Kentucky in 1898. In collaboration with J. Thomas “Tom” Touchton, a remarkable ‘son of Dade City’ who became the Founding Chair (Emeritus) of the Tampa Bay History Center and the founder of the Touchton Map Library and also the grateful grandson of “Miss Polly,” the “Miss Polly Touchton Park” will be known as Touchton Park to honor not only “Miss Polly” but also the contributions of fellow family members, such as: Charles Floyd Touchton, Sr. (1883-1957); Thelma Gray Hannon Touchton (1911-1988); and Charles Floyd Touchton Jr. (1911-1988) and others. The intention of Dade City in partnership with Tom Touchton will recognize the contributions of the Touchton family to Dade City.
Plans for new landscaping and signage will come to fruition with the 125th celebration of this extraordinary family.