The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association on Thursday night celebrated the opening of the new Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon. The Champagne flowed, the lights of the house glowed, and at long last the library President Washington only dreamed about was a reality. It is named in honor of Smith, the chairman of the Reynolds Foundation, who got the funding underway with a contribution of $38 million. The total amount raised came to $106 million.
The formal dinner dance began early, so that guests could take shuttle buses across the way to tour the new library, so spanking new it still smells of fresh carpet, new wood, and paint. (We had an earlier tour the week before.)
The building gleamed, especially as the sun set in the western sky, effortlessly transporting guests back in time. Gazing at the Potomac it was moving to consider that this was Washington’s view, too, and that thankfully it has not changed much in 200 years. Looking back at the mansion, someone asked, “Isn’t it supposed to be white?” No. The color it is now, a light brown, is its original color, discovered after much scraping and research. The surface has an almost stucco-like feel but is actually a sand-based paint, attractive in a humble, farmhouse way.
The women of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, which owns and preserves the estate, were having their evening, and most seemed almost giddy as they led the other guests from the lawn to a nearby tent dressed up with colorful tablecloths, candles, flowers, and a stage set to replicate a library. A dance band played 20th-century music for this 18th-century occasion.
In the invocation, we were told the library “would always be a beacon.” Ann Bookout, the regent of the Ladies’ Association, praised Mount Vernon’s new president, Curtis Viebranz, and his predecessor, Jim Rees. Gay Gaines, the vice regent, called the new building “the single most important library built in this century.” She thanked those who had contributed at least $250,000 each, many of whom were in the room, and others who gave lesser amounts, pausing periodically for applause. “When a believer makes a commitment, a believer goes after it,” Gaines said.
Dinner was served, including a crab, apple, and asparagus tart served on kale, braised tenderloin with truffled pea risotto, baby carrots and haricots verts, and a dessert of chocolate crunch cake with salted caramel ice cream. The still wines were from Virginia, from the Trump Winery in Charlottesville and Barboursville Vineyards in Barboursville, and the Champagne was Moët & Chandon from France.
The entertainment was threefold. First came an onstage performance by Amy Grant and her husband, Vince Gill. They were introduced as “that young couple,” prompting Grant to say, “I’m about to have my 53rd birthday. I’m happy to be called a young couple.” Then performers read portions of the Washington Papers on the piazza of the mansion, and the evening was capped off by fireworks over the Potomac.
For those who believe George Washington’s ghost remains in Mount Vernon, the nation’s first President was likely having a very fine time on Thursday night.