Saturday, June 20, 2009
Ford Orientation Center and Donald W. Reynolds Museum
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A number of new attractions have been added beyond the well-preserved house and gardens of George Washington's home at Mt. Vernon. Opening in 2006, this enhance the visitor experience by providing interpretation of the grounds and site.
Upon arriving visitors are guided into the Orientation Center. In the lobby is a miniature model of Mt. Vernon, life size-bronze sculptures by StudioEIS in Brooklyn, and ca. 1950 stained glass windows depicting Washington. This spacious entrance hall leads to the theater. There a 20-minute movie, We Fight to Be Free, provides an action-oriented re-enactment from the Revolutionary War. Taking on an epic quality, this movie helps to set the tone and create dramatic tone as people prepare to visit the site.
From the theater guests are encouraged to walk through the grounds and visit the house at regularly scheduled tour times.
The Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center is positioned to greet guests on their way out. An accomplishment in and of itself, this building has a sweeping staircase that descends to the ground floor where exhibits are on display. An impressive list of donors is prominently on display along the wall facing the stairs. The Museum was made possible by a $24 million donation by the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation.
The building also served as a long-delayed presidential library for Washington. Franklin Roosevelt was the first to have a presidential library that was built from 1939-40 on 16 acres of land at Hyde Park. This would later serve as a precedent for the Presidential Libraries Act in 1955 that regularized procedures for privately built and federally maintained libraries to preserve the papers of future Presidents.
Once visitors make it to the museum itself some highlights include Washington's wooden teeth, paintings, and other interactive interpretive displays on Mt. Vernon and Washington's life.
A long glass enclosed walkway connects the Museum and Education Center to The Shops, the Mount Vernon Inn, and a new Food Court. As visitors pass out of the walkway and prepare to exit the site they are greeted by a rendering of the house and grounds. Approximate size of this is 20 feet long by 16 feet wide, prominently showing The Mansion, outbuildings, and gardens.
An article in NYT review from 2006 neatly summarized the facility building effort and attempts to incorporate it into the overall site.
In 2009 Mount Vernon was officially nominated to the World Heritage List. A final decision is to be rendered in 2010. Such a designation would be a feather in the cap for an exceptional organization and the historic site they manage.