ECW Weekender: The Huntington Library

While we’re talking about primary sources, this is a great moment to share about a site you’ll definitely want to visit if you’re in Southern California.

The Huntington Library in San Marino, California (near Pasadena and Los Angeles) is often considered a mecca for researchers and the library houses an incredible collection of Civil War papers and primary sources. The large collections are accessible by restricted research passes only, but some incredible sources are on display for public view and examination in the library hall.

Plan at least a day to explore The Huntington. The library exhibits, art galleries, and extensive botanical gardens offer opportunities to explore culture and sciences. There’s more to see than just Civil War artifacts, but for that focus, here are the highlights accessible to the public that you won’t want to miss:

Remarkable Works, Remarkable Times Exhibit

Head to the library exhibition rooms and prepare to marvel at primary sources and original documents from hundreds of years ago. Books from the middle ages and renaissance include a manuscript of the Canterbury Tales, a Gutenberg Bible, and a first edition of Shakespeare’s published plays. Building upon this journey of literature and human discovery, original writings by Thoreau, illustrations by Audubon, and papers by the early advocates for women’s rights bring the focus into American history. Primary sources – some signed by Abraham Lincoln – feature the struggle for freedom and progression of civil rights. One of the particular highlights for west coast Civil War history includes primary sources about the 1862 Pacific Railroad Act and 1864 documentation about preserving Yosemite Valley.

Unlike exhibits found at sites with an exclusive focus on the Civil War, the Huntington Library places the Civil War and its groundbreaking political and social achievements int the chronology of human history, philosophy, and arts.

The Library Exhibition Hall at The Huntington

Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art

A variety of displays feature the progression of American art from the colonial times through the modern era. Study furniture and other cultural artifacts that would have been found in the homes of the men who became Civil War soldiers. Examine quilts or see local communities through the eyes of early American artists.

Sculpture of Lincoln and a cast of Lincoln, Stanton, and Grant are also on display along with paintings from the Civil War era. Don’t miss Eastman Johnson’s unfinished painting of a post-war maple sugaring scene; note the pieces of a Union uniform still worn by one of the figures in the painting.

An original painting by Eastman Johnson, preserved and displayed at The Huntington

Botanical Gardens – Herb Garden

Feeling adventurous and ready for some research? Pull out those research books or checklists on what was used in homeopathic medicines of the mid-19th Century and start exploring the herb garden which is laid out not far from the American art gallery. It’s a new and creative way to look at plants from a purely historical perspective.

There’s plenty to see and experience at The Huntington. Don’t pigeon-hole yourself into seeing only Civil War related items or angles. Take a deep breath and enjoy the excursion into the fine things of life. Amazing art. Priceless primary sources. Amazing, relaxing gardens. And, of course, memorable history everywhere you choose to look!

The gardens are always spectacular – but spring and summer are especially wonderful

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, historian, editor, and historical fiction writer. When sharing history, I try to keep the facts interesting and understandable. History is about real people, real actions, real effects and it should inspire us today.
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1 Response to ECW Weekender: The Huntington Library

  1. Meg Groeling says:

    Among the treasures at the Huntington, Lincoln’s letter of condolence to Colonel Elmer Ellsworth’s parents, considered to be one of the finest letters ever written (and don’t get me started on John Hay!) resides therein. I cried when I saw it.

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