It isn’t something The Legal Genealogist would have thought of.
I should have, of course, but it never occurred to me to look for a research library at a place like Mount Vernon, home of George Washington on the Potomac River in northern Virginia.
Turns out, there is one, and it’s a terrific library. The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington describes its mission as fostering “new scholarly research about George Washington and the Founding Era, while safeguarding original Washington books and manuscripts.”1
Here’s the description of how that library came to be:
In 1986, the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association broadened its vision beyond the preservation of Mount Vernon, and sought to extend the education of Washington’s life, achievements, and character – to the entire world.
In 2010, that mission expanded to include the construction of a new research library. The MVLA announced the creation of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington to further the organization’s mission of advancing appreciation and understanding of George Washington. The announcement resulted from a remarkable gift of $38 million from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, the largest received in the history of the MVLA. The Campaign for the Library – with Gay Hart Gaines, the Vice Regent for Florida, as chair – set an ambitious goal to raise $100 million to construct the library. The Campaign exceeded its goal by raising $106.4 million by June 2013, all provided by private donors. Groundbreaking took place in April 2011, and the Library opened its doors on September 27, 2013.
The Washington Library, a 45,000 square-foot facility, safeguards Washington’s books and manuscripts, approximately 1,500 additional 18th-century books, as well as thousands of important 19th-century newspapers, manuscripts, and documents. It also serves as a scholarly retreat, creates educational outreach programs, and provides seminars and training programs with a special focus on Washington’s leadership. The Library emphasizes educational outreach, touching the lives of students, teachers, and scholars around the world.2
It’s not the kind of library a researcher just walks into: it’s open for research by appointment only. But if your research focuses on George and Martha Washington, Mount Vernon, the Founding Era and Early Republic, slavery, historic preservation and decorative arts, its holdings may be just what you need.
Before you look for an appointment, however, check out the Digital Collections from The Washington Library here. There are some 37 collections within the digital holdings, and they include a selection of original papers of George Washington, letters and papers of Martha Washington, manuscripts from Bushrod Washington (nephew of George and a U.S. Supreme Court associate justice), and much much more.
I wouldn’t have known about this library had it not been for a fellow genealogist, Harold McClendon, offering a tour of Mount Vernon and pointing out the library when we arrived. But it sure drove home the lesson: whenever we’re at a historic facility, check and see if there’s a library.
We just might find some amazing gems…