The Lincoln Memorial Shrine is a monument, museum, and research library in Redlands, California. It is the only museum and archive dedicated to Abraham Lincoln west of Illinois. The shrine was created in 1932 by wealthy businessman Robert Watchorn, an avid Lincoln enthusiast, who built it as a memorial to his deceased son. The small shrine contains thousands of artifacts, documents, and artwork relating to both Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. It is located behind the A. K. Smiley Public Library, and is also a part of the library’s Special Collections division. The shrine’s non-circulating collection of books and documents are available to researchers by appointment.
Watchorn was born in England in 1858. In 1880 he immigrated to America and
found employment in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. He became active in the
growing labor movement, which led to him being elected the first
secretary of the United Mine Workers union. In 1891 the governor of
Pennsylvania appointed him Inspector of Factories and Mines, where he was
instrumental in ending the use of child labor in the state. Later he served as Commissioner
of Immigration at Ellis Island in New York City during the Theodore Roosevelt
administration. Afterwards he became treasurer of the Union Oil Company, where
he amassed a substantial fortune. Around this time he decided to make the community
of Redlands, California his winter home.
and his son Emory were great admirers of Abraham Lincoln. Robert was inspired by Lincoln’s story of advancement from poor, uneducated frontiersman to President
of the United States. As he became wealthy, Robert began purchasing thousands
of Lincoln artifacts, books, documents, and memorabilia. This was during an era
of intense national interest in Abraham Lincoln. Commemorations of the
president proliferated wildly, from his inclusion on the penny in 1909 to the
construction of the Lincoln Memorial in 1922. Robert and his wife Alma were
devastated when their son Emory died in 1921 due to complications from an
injury he had suffered while serving in the Army Air Service during World War
I. As a tribute to their fallen son, the Watchorns decided to erect a shrine
for the family’s idol, Abraham Lincoln.
Lincoln Memorial Shrine was designed by Southern California architect Elmer
Grey. Construction occurred in three phases. The first portion, the
octagon-shaped rotunda, was completed in 1932. It was built from reinforced
concrete covered in Indiana limestone, upon which were inscribed various quotes
by Lincoln. In 1937 two patio wings were added to the shrine, along with a
garden, benches, and fountains (designed by sculptor Merrill Gage). Robert
Watchorn had hoped to expand the shrine even more, but the Great Depression
hurt his finances and ended the possibility. In 1998 the shrine was finally
expanded after a campaign to raise one million dollars. Two additional wings
were added, bringing the shrine’s size to 3,500 square feet.
Lincoln Memorial Shrine remains free and open to the public thanks to a
permanent endowment from the Watchorn family. It is reportedly the only Lincoln
museum and archive west of Illinois. The centerpiece of the shrine is its
rotunda, which contains elaborate artwork on the ceiling and a marble bust of
Lincoln designed by George Grey Barnard. The bust, depicting Lincoln before he
grew his beard, was Robert Watchorn’s prized possession, and only two copies
were ever made; the second one was sent to France and lost during World War II.
The wings contain various exhibits on Lincoln and the Civil War, filled with
thousands of artifacts. The shrine also has a large collection of books and
documents available for research by appointment.
shrine has remained popular with locals, scholars, and Lincoln enthusiasts
alike. Since 1940 local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have held an annual pilgrimage
to the site. The Watchorn Lincoln Memorial Association, an organization created
to help provide financial support, holds various programs and events, most
notably the annual Watchorn Lincoln Dinner. The shrine is also home to the
Inland Empire Civil War Round Table, a group that holds monthly formal and informal
roundtable discussions on the Civil War.