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First Posted: July 18, 2012
Jan 31, 2015

Henry Bacon/Architect


Henry Bacon

Wikipedia Commons/UpstateNYer
Lincoln Memorial

Henry Bacon (November 28, 1866-February 17, 1924) was an American Beaux-Arts architect who is best remembered for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. (built 1915-1922), which was his final project.

Education and Early Career

Henry Bacon was born in Watseka, Illinois. He studied briefly at the University of Illinois, Urbana (1884), but left to begin his architectural career as a draftsman, eventually serving in the office of McKim, Mead & White (MMW) in New York City, one of the best-known architectural firms in its time. Bacon's works of that period were in the late Greek Revival and Beaux-Arts modes associated with the firm. His more important works include the Danforth Memorial Library in Paterson, New Jersey (1908) and the train station in Naugatuck, Connecticut.

While at MMW, Bacon won, in 1889, the Rotch Traveling Scholarship for architectural students, which gave him two years of study and travel in Europe, which he spent learning and drawing details of Roman and Greek architecture. In Turkey, he met his future wife, Laura Florence Calvert, daughter of a British Consul. He traveled with another fellowship student, Albert Kahn who would become a leading industrial architect. Returning to the U.S. he spent a few more years with his mentor, Charles McKim, working on projects such as the Rhode Island State House in Providence, Rhode Island, and serving as McKim's personal representative in Chicago during the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, for which MMW was designing several buildings.

In 1897 Bacon left MMW to found, with James Brite, a younger architect from the firm, the partnership of Brite and Bacon Architects. There Brite was in charge of financial, administrative, and contracting aspects of the partnership, while Bacon was in charge of the architectural design and construction. The partnership immediately won the competition for the Jersey City Public Library and the Hall of History for American University in Washington, DC, and thereafter built a good number of public buildings and a small number of private residences.

The partnership was selected in 1897 to build two private residences, the "La Fetra Mansion" in Summit, New Jersey, and a three-story Georgian mansion "Laurel Hill" in Columbia, North Carolina. The "La Fetra Mansion" was designed and built by Bacon, and his design was published in the September 1901 issue of The Architecture, the pre-eminent architectural professional journal of its time. The LeFetra Mansion fully exhibits Bacon's preference for Beaux-Arts Neo-Greek and Roman architecture style. His simple and elegant lines and his skill in dimensions and proportions gave rise to a stately elegance, peaceful tranquility, and a sense of divine protection.

In 1897, Bacon was also approached by a group which was organized with the intent to raise public and private funds to build a monument in Washington, DC to memorialize Abraham Lincoln. Bacon began his conceptual, artistic, and architectural design for the Lincoln Memorial that year, and continued in the effort even though the funding for the building of the project did not materialize until years later. The Brite and Bacon Partnership dissolved in 1902 partly resulting from Brite's disagreement over Bacon's passion and the unpaid time he spent on the design. After that, Bacon practiced under his own name with significant success, building a large number of famous public buildings and monuments, until his death in 1924.

Mature Work

...Bacon was very active as a designer of monuments and settings for public sculpture. He designed the Court of the Four Seasons, for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, and the World War I Memorial at Yale University. He collaborated with sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens on the Sen. Mark Hanna Monument in Cleveland, Ohio, and with Daniel Chester French on numerous monuments, notably the Lincoln Memorial's pensive colossal Lincoln. The Olin Library, one of Bacon's buildings at Wesleyan University, houses many of Bacon's documents and blueprints of the Lincoln Memorial.

Bacon rarely found time to design for private residences. There are two known residential projects that are clearly his work. The first is the La Fetra Mansion in Summit, New Jersey, designed and built under the firm Brite & Bacon from 1897 to 1900. Bacon skillfully integrated into a residential setting many of his signature Greek Revival and Roman Renaissance elements and proportions. The resulting elegance, peace, tranquility, and sense of divine protection exuding from the comfort and functionality of a private residence, is astoundingly masterful. The La Fetra Mansion was commissioned by industrialist Harold A. La Fetra of the Royal Baking Powder Company, which later merged with RJR Nebisco.

The other Bacon designed private residence is the Chesterwood House, which he designed for his friend, the noted sculptor Daniel Chester French, as his summer home and studio at Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Its exterior bears similarity the "La Fetra Mansion".

In May, 1923 President Warren G. Harding presented Bacon with the American Institute of Architects's Gold Medal, making him the 6th recipient of that honor. Bacon died of cancer in New York City, and is buried at Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington, North Carolina.

In World War II, a Liberty Ship was named after architect Bacon: the SS Henry Bacon, which was commissioned on November 11, 1942, and was the last merchant ship to be sunk by the Luftwaffe during World War II.

For More Information:

The Architecture Of The Lincoln Memorial by Henry Bacon
Lincoln Memorial Design Individuals/National Park Service

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