Want to tour the only museum and archive dedicated to the memory and legacy of Abraham Lincoln located west of the Mississippi River? You’ll have to take a jaunt to Redlands, California.
For some of you, the Lincoln Memorial Shrine might be the undiscovered gem in your own backyard. For others, it might be quite a trek across the country…but definitely worth a visit if you’re traveling in the area.
Nestled in the urban sprawl of Southern California, the Lincoln Memorial Shrine stands in a pristine park behind the Smiley Public Library. Quotes from some of the sixteenth president’s most famous speeches are inscribed on the exterior walls while the inside rotunda is graced with beautiful artwork, reflecting Lincoln’s legacy. The memorial building preserves a large collection of books, manuscripts, and artifacts relating to President Lincoln and the American Civil War. Well-planned displays of artifacts and good signage tell the history of the president and his struggle to reunite the nation. To the researchers among us – you’ll be happy to know that the collection of literature and manuscripts is available for study by appointment.
Now there comes an obvious question – why is the Lincoln Memorial Shrine in Redlands, California? And who built it?
Meet Mr. Robert Watchorn. Born in 1858 in England, Watchorn grew up working in coal mines and in 1880 he immigrated to America. He was inspired by his new country and by the character and legacy of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln became a role-model for Watchorn, who copied his hero’s example of industrious work and the “self-made man image.” Watchorn served in several government positions and made a fortune through the Watchorn Oil and Gas Company.
With a winter home in Redlands, California, Robert and Alma Watchorn and their son – Emory – were a happy and successful American family, enjoying the early 20th century dream life and contributing to many charitable causes. Emory Watchorn flew combat missions with the Royal Italian Air Force (Allies) during World War I; he returned home safely at the end of the war, but military service had weakened his health. In 1921, Emory Watchorn died; he only 25 years of age.
Devastated by the loss of their child, Mr. and Mrs. Watchorn sought a way to memorialize their son and build a monument that would celebrate American character. They decided to build a memorial, honoring Lincoln. The eight-sided “rotunda” was completed in 1932; the fountains and quotations on the walls were added a few years later. In 1998 – after extensive fundraising – two museum wings were added to the original structure.
Redland’s Lincoln Shrine is not the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. It is not the Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield. And it does not pretend to be those famous Meccas which define the public’s view of Lincoln. Lincoln Memorial Shrine stands secluded and almost forgotten – but it is a quiet monument to what Lincoln means to Americans.
To the Watchorns, Lincoln was one of the greatest men of all-time. The president’s character was inspirational to the next generation of American citizens, and they desired to pass that legacy and inspiration to future generations.
At the Lincoln Memorial Shrine, school children are introduced to an American hero. Families explore defining moments in history. Historians meet to debate and discuss. All of us leave inspired and seeking to aspire to greater things. If Lincoln – a very common man with uncommon character – could change the nation and world for the better, what might we do?
It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work…that the government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Lincoln Memorial Shrine – 125 West Vine Street, Redlands, CA 92373
909-798-7632 or 909-798-7636
1pm to 5pm, most days – call to make sure the shrine museum will be open.
Tours are available for groups of 12 or more – call for details.
Research opportunities are available through the Heritage Room of the Smiley Public Library – call to request information or schedule an appointment. 909-798-7632
Special Events may be scheduled throughout the year; check the website for details. Annually, a special open house day and banquet are hosted around Lincoln’s Birthday in February.