Nearly A Century After Construction, Some Carnegie Libraries Remain In Wisconsin

One Library In Superior May Soon Become Natural History Museum

Jacob Norlund (CC-BY-NC-SA)

Around the turn of the 20th century, 60 Wisconsin communities received Andrew Carnegie grants to build public libraries. While many have since been razed or repurposed, some are still in use today.

Carnegie, a major philanthropist of the time, donated a total of $40 million to build close to 1,700 libraries across the nation. Former Wisconsin Library Heritage Center Chair Larry Nix said Carnegie was handing out library grants left and right, and many communities wanted in on the action.

“It was a huge factor in terms of public library development, and it was a source of huge community pride,” said Nix.

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Nix said 14 libraries have been razed and 28 have been repurposed as communities outgrow the buildings.

“They did that in Fond du Lac, for instance, and Racine’s library is still used as a museum, but basically it’s because the building was inadequate to meet the needs of growing library service,” he said.

Superior is the site of the first and last libraries built in Wisconsin. Superior Planning Director Jason Serck said new life may be breathed into one building: A Minnesota man wants to turn it into a natural history museum.

“I think the community as a whole would like to preserve that building,” said Serck.

Duluth’s Matthew Waterhouse is the man behind the push to turn the building into a museum. He said he was struck by the building’s beauty when he first saw it.

“It reminded me of the architecture of the older museums around the country — the Smithsonian and the American Museum of Natural History in New York,” he said.

Waterhouse said he hopes to raise around $300,000 through a crowdfunding campaign to restore the building.