George Washington's majestic estate in Mount Vernon, Va., 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 speech 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."
The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, a private group that has owned and operated the estate since 1858, raised $106 million in private funds for the library over the past three years. Philanthropist Fred W. Smith, chairman of the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, was a leader of the effort. In 2010, the foundation contributed $38 million for the library, 45,000 square feet of space on a 15-acre plot.
"This new library will help us to maintain and advance George Washington's timeless relevance in our fast-changing world," said Ann Bookout, regent of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association.