Washington • The pitch is nothing if not ambitious: a multimillion-dollar museum, featuring a replica of Mount Vernon, devoted to President George Washington, opening in Utah in eight years, on the 250th anniversary of the founding of the United States.
“A Mount Vernon of the Rockies,” proclaimed Eric Dowdle, founder and chairman of the board of the George Washington Museum of American History, which plans to open in 2026 and is currently set to be located in Highland.
Unveiling the plans for the museum, which Dowdle estimates will cost about $70 million to build, he said Thursday that it will “tell America’s history” and “celebrate what’s so readily available in the East and bring it to the West.”
Trumpeted as the largest American history museum west of the Mississippi, the planned facility would encompass 18 acres with a replica of Mount Vernon, the first president’s home just outside Washington, D.C. The museum would have a working farm, some 40,000 square feet of exhibit space and a restaurant called, “Martha Washington’s Kitchen,” after America’s first first lady.
The goal is to raise “hundreds of millions” of dollars, Dowdle said Thursday, noting he wants private donations, not taxpayer funds. The group backing the museum says it has set up a nonprofit, though the IRS website lists no filing by the entity.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican who spoke during the launch of the project at a Capitol news conference, said the Beehive State is the most patriotic state in the union and a center for George Washington there would bring some Western “flavor” to the nation’s history.
Hatch, who is 84 and often jokes about his age, said there’s an excellent reason to locate the museum in Utah.
“The last time I chatted with George Washington … he expressed a desire to have this out in Utah,” Hatch said.
The project’s supporters say that they aren’t going to whitewash some not-so-positive parts of Washington’s life, including that 317 slaves were working at Mount Vernon when he died.
“There will be people uniquely qualified to address the issues that are more sensitive or most positioned for their point of view,” Dowdle said, noting the museum would celebrate “different cultures” and that there is room for “everyone at the plate.”
Museum supporters didn’t say whether the Mount Vernon replica would include the slave quarters that are now part of the tour at the original site.
“Our chief historian is assembling a team of qualified individuals to approach these and other important historical moments as we support President Obama’s Semiquincentennial Commission to celebrate the 250th Anniversary of America,” spokesman Patrick Tedjamulia said when asked about the slave quarters. He added the museum is still in the beginning stages of planning.
Former Utah state Sen. Al Jackson, who is on the museum’s board, said he was honored the museum would be based in the Beehive State.
“This building that’s going to be replicated out west in Utah is a tribute to not only George Washington but to everyone who lived and worked at that house and on that plantation,” said Jackson, who is black. “It’s a building that’s for everybody.”
Dowdle said the museum board had “secured” land in Highland, though there are other cities vying to host it and it could eventually be located in another place, such as Salt Lake City or in Fillmore, the territorial capital.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said he was “nothing short of giddy” when he learned about the planned museum.
“I was like a kid on a candy rush,” Lee said. “You couldn’t make me happier than saying they’re building a new version of Disneyland in Utah.”