SALT LAKE CITY — On Thursday morning, award-winning folk artist Eric Dowdle, former federal special agent and author Tim Ballard and nationally recognized composer Paul Cardall were all at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., to announce Utah's new George Washington Museum of American History.
The nonprofit initiative will be the largest American history museum west of the Mississippi. The 18-acre location — currently projected to be in Highland along state Route 92 in north Utah County, museum officials told the Deseret News — will be a replica of George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Virginia, estate.
The site will also house "two large museum buildings, a working farm, barns, retail cottages, greenhouse, gardens, office and ticketing buildings, and on-site parking facilities," according to the museum's website.
Museum officials hope to have the project operational by July 4, 2026 — the 250th anniversary of the birth of the United States.
In 2016, then-President Barack Obama created a commission to oversee celebrations of the country's 250th anniversary in 2026, charging each of the 50 states to find ways to mark the occasion. Utah is the first state to follow through on the initiative.
“Utah wanted to do something special for 2026 because President Obama as an initiative asked every state to do something to unite the States,” Cardall said.
Utah Sens. Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch, former Salt Lake Chamber President Lane Beattie, former state Sen. Alvin Jackson and several other Utahns were on hand for the announcement in Washington D.C.
More than just a museum, officials also plan to put together a touring exhibition that will visit all 50 states leading up to July 4, 2026.
“We’re inviting the country to come to Utah and … the museum, but also engage in their own states,” said Dowdle, who is known for his folk art jigsaw puzzles. Dowdle is the museum's founder and Chairman of the Board and invited both Ballard and Cardall to be involved in the project.
“We believe the future will bring more and more people to our state,” Dowdle said. “We believe Utah can act as a hub for a Reader’s Digest version of the Smithsonian.”
A team of artists, historians and musicians will collaborate on the project, which will include a multimedia exhibition that displays the first 250 years of American history. Ballard, Dowdle and Cardall will contribute in unique ways.
Ballard, as Chief Historian, will help pen various American history stories (and a documentary series) for the museum that will “show the power of history.”
“Imagine how much better (our relationship to America) could be if only you knew the power of history. You don’t really know the history of who built this nation,” he said.
Ballard said he will coordinate efforts to identify American history stories by speaking with historians and the public. He said the project will host public competitions and online polls to help determine the stories that best define America.
He said the group will have the stories “buttoned-up” by 2025.
“We gave ourselves plenty of runway,” he said.
Cardall, an American pianist and composer, will be the museum's Chief Composer. He is putting together unique music that will “create a renaissance of music about America.”
He plans to compose music that will fit the stories Ballard finds in his research for his museum-related books.
“It will bring … light back into the world. Music is so powerful in uniting us,” Cardall said.
He said the Founding Fathers are often criticized in modern times and he hopes the new museum will change that narrative and show the positive sides of America's founders.14 comments on this story
“What else can we create to bring our Founding Fathers back in the light? … Instead of apologizing for them, let’s admit they're human," Cardall said.
He said the point of the museum is to make Americans more hopeful for the future.
“So many times we go to museums and we look at history, and we leave out (a deeper) perspective,” he said, adding, “When you leave from (this) museum, you will have a better understanding of what it means to be an American and be filled with hope.”