American history museum coming to Utah

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The George Washington Museum of American History is to be the largest such museum west of the Mississippi, with 250 displays and an immersive historical experience. (gwmuseum.com)

Folk painter Eric Dowdle sat on the back porch of Mount Vernon, the plantation house of George Washington, and had a vision of the future. That was nearly three decades ago.

“I had this thought that I wanted to bring this patriotism to the West,” Dowdle said. “When I moved from the West to the East, I experienced a resurgence of American history. Utah has a great passion around pioneer heritage, but I want to bring the fullness of our history to the state.”
At the U.S. Capitol on June 7, Dowdle announced his plans for bringing his vision to life: the George Washington Museum of American History.
“The light has not dimmed, and now is the right time to move forward,” Dowdle said.
The museum experience will be installed in Utah in 2026, the year of the United States’ 250th anniversary. The museum’s location has yet to be decided. It will contain 250 pieces representing the greatest moments of American history as told through art installations, storytelling and musical compositions. Fifty of the pieces will go on tour throughout America in the year prior to the museum’s opening in an exhibit called “Land That I Love.”
The museum is to become the largest American History museum west of the Mississippi and will consist of 18 acres of land. It will include a likeness of Mount Vernon, two large museum buildings, a working farm, barns, retail cottages and a greenhouse.
Dowdle hopes the museum will be more of an immersive historical experience than one finds with most museums. Visitors will enjoy carriage rides, an equestrian barn, a garden, a blacksmith shop, a bakery and other boutiques.
The museum’s chief composer Paul Cardall said he feels the use of music in this exhibition will bring a powerful yet unique experience to the museum.
“Hans Christian Andersen said, ‘Where words fail, music speaks.’ Walls come down with music. Music unites us,” Cardall said.
Cardall pointed to the success of “Hamilton” as an example of music’s power to bring history to life. With the help of a team of professional composers and musicians, he said he hopes to do the same for the museum.
“Music is a huge part of our American history. Think of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ or ‘God Bless America.’ There are so many gorgeous pieces of music that represent love for country. Yet so many of those were written so long ago,” Cardall said. “What does this generation have to offer with music? It’s been 250 years since this country was founded; let’s represent where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re going.”
The chief historian for the museum, Tim Ballard, best known for his work with Operation Underground Railroad, said he hopes this museum will be liberty-promoting as generations come to experience American history.
“In our nation, there are a lot of divisiveness and hate,” Ballard said. “There are domestic issues, foreign issues and our freedoms are constantly being threatened. How do we preserve our freedom? You go back to history and learn from history.”
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