From 13 to 83, Julien Yonge Spent His Life Building a Library and a Legacy

Julien Yonge about age 14
Julien Chandler Yonge, about 15 or 16 years old – From an original photograph belonging to Joel Henry Horne. His cap bears the initials for the Alabama Male College (later Auburn) and his lapel pin shows the initials of his fraternity, Phi Kappa Alpha.

This year marks the 145th anniversary of the birth of Julien Chandler Yonge (1879-1962) and next year will mark the 80th anniversary since the Yonge library of Florida history became part of the University of Florida. Although Julien never intended to found a major library when he was in his teens, his interest in the state’s past date from those early years. A copy of Richard Campbell’s Historical Sketches of Colonial Florida (1892), published when Julien was thirteen and a part of his boyhood library, is still part of the holdings of the Yonge Library.

The young Julien won distinction at school, being especially adept at math and noted for his writing on Pensacola history. Outdoorsy and fond of sports as a teenager, he was also an avid bicyclist and tennis player. But in 1898 fever struck him down, impairing both his vision and his hearing. Though already trained as an engineer, a lengthy recuperation meant changes to his plans for life. As friend and biographer Rembert Patrick later noted, “On the sick bed Florida lost an engineer but gained a historian.”

Always interested in history, Julien spent much of his early twenties working alongside his father, Philip Keyes Yonge, to amass a collection of books, maps, and historical manuscripts in Floridiana. In 1905 the Yonges formerly established the collection as a private library dedicated and opened it to researchers who would visit their home at 1924 East Jackson Street, Pensacola, to make use of the materials. (According to Rembert Patrick, Julien employed his engineering skills to design the house).

Around this time, he also became involved in reactivating and revitalizing the Florida Historical Society and in 1924 was elected as editor of The Florida Historical Quarterly, a role he continued in for 31 years.

His own bout with illness made Julien an advocate for anyone facing obstacles or disabilities and he was especially ready to help students who came to his house in Pensacola to conduct research. As noted by Rembert Patrick in his 1962 biographical notice marking Julien’s death in The Quarterly:

“No serious student could arrive too early or stay too late. He had a particular sympathy for financially pressed graduate students who made the most of their resources by taking notes many hours a day. Late at night he would appear with dishes heaped with ice cream for visitors using his library . . . Many people found it unnecessary to visit Pensacola. Julien would do their research for them without charge an send them packets of notes.”

Julien’s dedication to Florida’s history is perhaps best summed up in his expectations for the P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History at the time he donated it to the University of Florida in 1944. The main purpose of the library would be to assist everyone, and particularly people at the university, in the writing of Florida history. The holdings would therefore be kept as comprehensive as possible. By agreement with the university, the library would be securely housed, have funding to support its growth, and would be open to everyone with research interests. Julien was hesitant at first to serve as the head of the library, daunted by the need to relocate from Pensacola and not wanting to profit in anyway from the donation. Ultimately, however, he did move to Gainesville and headed the Yonge Library until his retirement in 1958.

We are pleased to continue his legacy and to wish our founder best wishes in memoriam on this anniversary of his birth!