A stone that has been laying idle for more than 50 years now has a prominent place in history as the cornerstone of the new Ford Orientation Center at Mount Vernon Estate. It forms a direct connection between 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. and the home of the nation’s first chief executive — George Washington.
During a 30 minute Cornerstone Ceremony Tuesday morning at the entrance to the still evolving Orientation Center, just inside the Estate’s Texas Gate, representatives of Ford Motor Company, Ford Motor Company Fund, and the Mount Vernon Ladies Association unveiled the stone engraved with 2006 and mortared in into place. It had come from White House renovations undertaken between 1949 and 1952 during the administration of President Harry S. Truman.
“We have had this stone for more than 50 years. When it came time to decide on a stone to be the cornerstone of this building we decided to use the White House stone,” said Dennis Pogue, associate director for preservation, Historic Mount Vernon.
“When the extensive renovations to the White House were completed in 1952 there were a number of stones and bricks left over. So they donated that material to Mount Vernon. We have used many of the bricks over the years and now the stone,” said James C. Rees, executive director, Mount Vernon Estate.
“But not only is the stone a real artifact so is the carving of the date on the stone. The script is similar to that used during Washington’s era,” Pogue added.
Participating in the ceremony were Ziad Ojakli, group vice president, Corporate Affairs, Ford Motor Company, and Sandy Ulsh, president, Ford Motor Company Fund, which provided $7 million for the new center and $2 million for an 18 minute original film telling Washington’s story.
“Ford Motor Company has given more to Mount Vernon than any other donor in the Estate’s history,” said Mrs. Goody Semple, vice regent for Michigan, Mount Vernon Ladies Association. “For this project we have been able to generate donations from 190,000 sources but Ford Motor Company was the leader.”
Ford’s relationship with Mount Vernon dates back to a visit by Henry Ford in 1923. Following that visit he donated the Estate’s first fire truck.
“We intend to keep that relationship. Ford is committed to people learning about America’s remarkable history,” Ojakli said.
“The Ford Orientation Center will illuminate history by the use of many new technological tools. It’s going to be great for visitors. The educational experience will be fabulous,” Ulsh said. The Ford Motor Company Fund is the philanthropic arm of the corporation.
In addition to providing funds for the new Center, the fund also gave $2 million to create an 18 minute film tracing highlights of Washington’s life from age 19 to 50. Upon completion it will be shown in the 450 seat dual theaters of the Orientation Center.
The film is being produced and directed by Greystone Productions, of Hollywood, and stars Broadway stage actor Sebastian Roche in the role of Washington. Joining in the Cornerstone Ceremony dressed as Washington, Roche said, “Being a native of Great Britain, it’s been an extraordinary experience for me to really get to know the father of your nation.”
Roche was selected following tryouts in London, New York and California, according to Rees. “The film is being shot right here at Mount Vernon even as we speak. They just finished a sequence on the French and Indian Wars and once again the Americans and British prevailed,” Rees told the 50 plus ceremony audience.
Following a tour of the Center visitors were invited to witness a scene being shot in the area of Mount Vernon’s Pioneer Farm. It was recreating Washington famous crossing of the Delaware River, Christmas 1775.
FORD ORIENTATION CENTER is one of two structures designed to revolutionize a visit to Mount Vernon. The other is the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center. Together they account for an investment exceeding $90 million, all privately donated funds.
With its Hollywood produced and directed movie combined with myriad exhibits, the Ford Orientation Center will give visitors an overview of the Mount Vernon experience prior to their actual tour of the Mansion and grounds.
It will also dispel the elder statesman icon and introduce the “real George Washington” as a dynamic leader, warrior, hero, farmer and economic businessman. “This will be a vital resource which will be the gateway for generations of young Americans to learn about George Washington,” Rees said. Central to that goal is the 18 minute mini epic featuring an “action-oriented re-enactment of the defining moment of the Revolutionary War — Washington crossing the Delaware.”
This Museum/Education Center will also serve as Washington’s Presidential Library. It will include classroom space and computers to gain access to more than 20,000 letters written by him throughout his life.