Henry Bacon Jr., architect of the Lincoln Memorial, lived in Southport and Wilmington from 1876 to 1924. Born in Watseka, Illinois, Henry’s father, Henry Sr., worked as an engineer fro the Illinois Central Railroad before taking an appointment in the Wilmington office of the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Bacon family lived in Southport until moving to Wilmington in 1880.
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At the age of fifteen, Henry Jr. left to study at Chauncey Hall School in Boston but returned after three years, and graduated from Tileston High School in Wilmington. Later that year, he entered the University of Illinois. After graduation in 1888, Bacon took a position as a draftsman for the a Boston architectural firm before taking a post with the New York firm of McKim, Mead, and White, the most prestigious architectural company of its day.
In 1889, Bacon’s work won the Rotch Traveling Scholarship, the proceeds of which allowed him to tour Europe. While in Greece, Bacon met and married Laura Calvert, the daughter of a British consul.
Shortly after his return to the U. S. in 1891, Bacon rejoined the New York firm, and designed the Pennsylvania Railroad Building, his first independent commission. Bacon worked for McKim, Mead, and White until 1897, when he opened a firm with James Brite, fellow Rotch Scholarship recipient. They partnered until 1903, when each developed their own firms.
Bacon received the commission for the Lincoln Memorial in 1911. His design was accepted in 1912, and he completed the work in 1922 to extensive professional and popular acclaim. The American Institute of Architects awarded Bacon a gold medal for his accomplishment, considered by many to be the most effective monument on the Washington Mall. Bacon also helped design the Reflecting Pool and the street lighting system for Washington, D. C.
Bacon spent the remainder of his life designing homes, memorials, monuments, and office buildings in Connecticut, Illinois, North Carolina, and New York. He designed the Confederate monument in Wilmington, and Live Oaks, formerly the Walter Parsley residence, located on Masonboro Sound. He also laid out plans for All Saint’s Episcopal Church in Avery County, as well as the Women of the Confederacy Monument on Capitol Square in Raleigh.
Bacon died on February 16, 1924, while undergoing intestinal cancer surgery in a New York City hospital. His body was returned to the family in Wilmington, and he as buried at Oakdale Cemetery. In February 1945, the SS Henry Bacon, a Liberty ship constructed by the North Carolina Shipbuilding Company, was the last such vessel sunk by the German Luftwaffe.
Henry F. Withey, ed., Biographical Dictionary of American Architects (1956)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 77-79—sketch by Tony P. Wrenn
(Wilmington) Morning-Star, April 20, 1986; December 30, 1998
Tony P. Wrenn, Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait (1984)
Christopher A. Thomas, “The Lincoln Memorial and Its Architect, Henry Bacon” (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1990)