Carnegie Library in Okolona

Carnegie Library and labyrynthArchitect John Gaisford of Memphis designed the Carnegie Library in Okolona in 1914.  The building was completed in 1915, with one large room and a full basement that contained four small rooms and two baths (Okolona, Mississippi Carnegie Library).  Carnegie provided $7,500 toward the construction.  An addition in 1986 added a conference room and more shelf space.  It is currently under renovation again.

The “storytelling” labyrinth in the front has interesting symbolic meaning.  You can read the full piece at the link, but I particularly liked the final few words:

The project will hopefully be seen by the community as a landmark of not only something that happened in the past, but of a positive step taken by the townspeople towards an openness concerning the town’s history and the possibility of a united future. (The Carnegie Library Story Labyrinth, retrieved from City of Okolona website)

Gaisford also designed the Como Methodist Church.  The last building before his death in 1918 was the Paramount Theater in Clarksdale. The Paramount was originally named the Marion when it opened in 1918. Its most recent reincarnation was as the Super Soul Shop.Super sould shop Clarksdale

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19 Responses to Carnegie Library in Okolona

  1. Thanks for sharing these buildings. Its sad to hear about John Gaisford passing so young and at the height of his career. Do you know what killed him?


  2. Suzassippi says:

    Oh, wow! I can search the newspaper archives when I have the chance and see if there is anything else on him.


  3. Suzassippi says:

    Turned up one obituary, but it just mentioned the news of his death in an Indiana paper that was home to his wife, no other details.


    • hmmm another mystery man. I thought I read somewhere that his wife was from Western Pennsylvania?

      Taking a second look at the AIA obit it says he died in Memphis. The trenches of WWI were long and winding but I don’t think they stretched all the way to Tennessee.


      • Suzassippi says:

        Per the Terra Haute (Indiana) Saturday Spectatator, Sept. 14, 1918, p. 4: “Word received of the death at Memphis, Tenn., of John Gaisford, and architect, who married Miss Hermine Toenger of this city.”


  4. Suzassippi says:

    And the mystery gets even more mysterious! According to a Gaisford family ancestry page, Gaisford apparently married Hermine Taenzer, not Toenger, in 1916. Miss Taenzer moved from Terra Haute to Memphis with her family. I have not located information about their marriage in the paper. She died at the age of 90. Gaisford was married prior to her to a Juanita (Waneta) Ralph, but I cannot locate any information about that, or additional information about him…yet.


  5. socialbridge says:

    Wonderful buildings. We have Carnegie Libraries here in Ireland.


  6. Terri says:

    How wonderful to hear that one of John Gaisford’s buildings is being restored, especially considering that one of his churches in Memphis was demolished a few years ago and replaced by a CVS pharmacy.

    John Gaisford is one of my great uncles (my grandmother’s uncle) and I am in the process of collating information about him. I have a copy of his obituary somewhere, I seem to remember he died in Memphis after a short illness leaving his second wife Hermione Taenzer, a talented musician and member of the Beethoven club and a young daughter named Helen (daughter of his late wife Juanita/Waneta Ralph). Waneta died in 1915 and he married Hermione a year later. John was originally from Warminster, Wiltshire in the UK where his family were successful carpenters and builders involved in church restoration. His father Joseph Gaisford (my great grandfather) was a friend of the sculptor Harry Hems, the man noted for the figures in the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in NYC. John Gaisford emigrated to the U.S. in 1896, his youngest brother Harold died in WWI at the age of 25. He was one of 10 children.


    • Suzassippi says:

      Terri, thank you so much for adding some content and context. I seem to recall John Gaisford’s work in Memphis mentioned frequently, including about a hospital? I will have to look back through my notes as I ran across that whilst doing other research and have not followed up on it. Or, perhaps it was Joseph Gaisford. St. John the Divine is truly incredible!


    • Liz Norris says:

      Just discovered your comments on this site. My mother’s maiden name is Gaisford and her family is from Warminster, England. My uncle in England is doing research on our family. Would love to hear from you.


  7. Terri says:

    Yes, he designed the Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis but it was knocked down in 2005. A lot of his work was based in Memphis but he specialised in church buildings so there are quite a few of them in the South.


  8. Hello: While researching a church in Wichita, Kansas, Gaisford’s name came up regarding a new Methodist church there. The date was 1917, which may account for it not having been built. Besides the church in Como, do you know other churches he may have designed, especially Protestant? Thanks. You can reach me at


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