New Library Devoted to George Washington

Historic Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, broke ground Thursday on the new Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington with a ceremony featuring remarks by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, an appearance by “George Washington,” and a wide range of patriotic music. 

For the first time ever, Mount Vernon’s vast collection of George Washington’s books, manuscripts and archival materials will be organized, conserved and made available in the National Library. 

In addition to safeguarding Washington’s books and manuscripts, the 45,000 square foot National Library will serve as a scholarly retreat, create educational outreach programs on Washington, and provide seminars and training programs with a special focus on Washington’s leadership.

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Destined to be a George Washington “think tank,” the $47 million National Library is expected to be completed in 2013.

“We expect to create the world’s intellectual headquarters for everything to do with George Washington,” said Mount Vernon’s president, James Rees.

“By encouraging new research, aggressively reaching out to families across the nation, and hosting conferences that stress Washington’s leadership as the gold standard, we hope to touch the hearts and minds of each new generation.”

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As conveyed in a letter to a friend, a retired George Washington intended to build one last structure on his estate for his papers, but that plan was never realized – until now.

The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington will be located on a 15 acre site within walking distance of Washington’s home.

It will house more than 15,000 items including 2,500 rare 18th and 19th century books, 87 books that were owned by Washington, and 500 letters, ledgers, and account books that bear George Washington’s writing or signature.

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A modest residence for visiting scholars, authors and interns will be constructed next to the National Library.

The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, which purchased the estate from the Washington family in 1858, is unusual in that it receives no funds from the local, state, or federal governments.

Although plans for the National Library have been in the works for years, the project is now able to move forward thanks to a $38 million gift from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation which was presented last year. 

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The Foundation’s gift is said to be the largest in Mount Vernon’s history, which ranks as the oldest and most visited national preservation project in America. 

The groundbreaking marks a significant milestone in The Campaign for the Library, an effort organized by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association to support the operation, maintenance of the structure, programs and new staff positions.

To date, approximately $70 million has been raised towards the campaign’s $100 million goal.

In the picture above: Vice Regent Boyce Ansley, Regent Ann Bookout, Chairman of the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation Fred W. Smith, Vice Regent Gay Hart Gaines, Vice Regent Claire Edwards and Mount Vernon President James Rees.

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Rakesh Raman