This is the season when Americans jump into their cars, roll down the windows, and drive. We gape at our country’s many wonders, and observe how folks in opposite corners of our republic live. In that spirit, this issue of Philanthropy takes you on a trans-continental tour, stopping in every state (and twice in three states, plus once in D.C.) to peek at some local artifact of private philanthropy. Some are quirky little pet projects, others are monuments to the very best accomplishments of personal giving. Many fall in between, and exemplify the sorts of everyday offerings by donors and volunteers that handsomely speckle every one of our towns. These gifts from one group of citizens to another are a great strength of America. They fill human hungers that would otherwise be ignored—leaving our daily lives duller and darker—or else be foisted on impersonal, less effective agencies of government.
We start our road trip in what geographers say is the physical centerpoint of the 50 states—South Dakota—and then wind through our heartland, the west coast, the south, and the northeast, ending atop Mount Katahdin in Maine (just like the Appalachian Trail, itself a tremendous creation of private action and giving). So slip on a pair of shorts and sandals, grab an iced tea, and journey with us across the fertile plain of philanthropic America.
Mr. Fantom: I despise a narrow field. O for the reign of universal benevolence. I want to make all mankind good and happy.
Mr. Goodman: Dear me! Sure that must be a wholesale sort of a job. Had you not better try your hand at a town or neighborhood first?
Mr. Fantom: Sir, I have a plan in my head for relieving the miseries of the whole world…. I would alter all the laws, and put an end to all the wars…. This is what I call doing things on a grand scale….
Mr. Goodman: One must begin to love somewhere; and I think it is as natural to love one’s own family, and to do good in one’s own neighborhood…. If every man in every family, village, and county did the same, why then all the schemes would be met, and the end of one village or town where I was doing good would be the beginning of another village where somebody else was doing good….
Mr. Fantom: Sir, a man of large views will be on the watch for great occasions to prove his benevolence.
Mr. Goodman: Yes, sir; but if they are so distant that he cannot reach them, or so vast that he cannot grasp them, he may let a thousand little, snug, kind, good actions slip through his fingers in the meanwhile. And so between the great thing that he cannot do and the little ones that he will not do, life passes, and nothing will be done.
—McGuffey’s Reader, 1844
To continue the road trip, click on a region below: