Q: The last Carnegie Library built in the United States opened in 1921 and continues to be used as a public library today. In which central Kansas community will you find this “last built” Carnegie Library?
A: Canton (in McPherson County)
Scottish-American Andrew Carnegie was a wealthy industrialist who made his fortune in steel manufacturing and railroads. This captain of industry had grown up poor but became a great philanthropist during the latter years of his life. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, he donated money for the construction of thousands of “Carnegie Libraries” across the United States and around the world. Carnegie libraries were built in 48 of the 50 states. Many states had dozens; several had more than 100. Kansas ended up with 59 of these libraries, as well as seven Carnegie-funded academic libraries at colleges and universities. In 1919, there were 3,500 libraries in the U.S. and nearly half of them were built with construction grants paid by Carnegie. In 1921, the last Carnegie built library in the United States opened in Canton, in McPherson County.
Each Carnegie library building is unique, constructed in a style chosen by the community. The architecture was typically simple but formal, welcoming patrons to enter through a prominent doorway, which was nearly always accessed by stairs. The staircase is thought to symbolize a person's elevation by learning. Most Carnegie Libraries also have a lamp post or lantern hanging out front, symbolizing enlightenment.
Fun Fact: Under segregation, black people were generally denied access to public libraries in the American South. Rather than insisting that his libraries become racially integrated, Carnegie simply funded separate libraries for African Americans in many communities.