MOUNT VERNON, Va. – George Washington’s majestic estate overlooking the Potomac River now has an added attraction: a state-of-the-art presidential library.
The grand opening Friday of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington celebrated the father of our country with a festive crowd that included both U.S. senators from Virginia, the governor, performances by country singers – and couple – Vince Gill and Amy Grant, and a keynote by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough.
The library was designed to add a scholarly element to the understanding of the first president, who had written in a letter to a friend in 1797 that he wanted a building on his property to house his papers.
“If there’s anybody who deserves a presidential library, it’s Washington,” said historian Stephen Knott, professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I., who has studied the Founding Fathers. “He was our greatest president. This is 220 years overdue.”
Washington is most famous as a man of action, a leader and landowner. But he also had a deep love of learning. He was largely self-taught, eventually mastering the art of surveying, his profession before joining the military.
The new library owns 62 titles, or 103 volumes, of Washington’s original 1,200 titles, as well as duplicates of books that are known to have been in his collection.
They are all stored in a secure oval room that is temperature- and light-protected. His books can only be handled by library staff, which will bring volumes to scholars seated at tables in another secure anteroom where his manuscripts and correspondence are stored.