LIBRARY AND MUSEUM
By: Clarence Nelson
Bro. Nelson is a member of Vista Lodge #687, Vista, CA. and The
National Sojourners, Inc.
On October 20, 1976, without fanfare, a library and museum unique in
America came into existence. It is an entity dedicated to providing
information about our national heritage to the American public. This
facility is available to anyone who cares to learn of the heroic efforts
made by American Patriots, particularly members of the Masonic
Fraternity, in founding and developing this great nation.
In the early 1970's the National President of National Sojourners, Inc.
formed a committee to find and establish a National Home. In 1975 this
committee reported to the National Convention that they had located what
they believed to be the perfect property for this purpose. The real estate
they had found consisted of almost nine acres fronting on both the
Potomac River and the George Washington Memorial Parkway in
Alexandria, VA. This property had been purchased by George
Washington in 1760 and made a part of his River farm, the largest of the
five working farms which were a part of the Mount Vernon estate. In
1785 a modest farm house was built, most likely as a residence for his
assistant manager. As the years passed there were at least three major
additions to the house. The current building had been neglected over the
years while being put to a variety of uses. It was a "fixer-upper" to test
the mettle of the most dedicated restoration devotee.
Although the convention considered the $400,000 price tag too risky to
be undertaken by such a small organization, the committee pressed ahead
with plans to acquire the property because they believed it was an
opportunity too good to pass up. Subsequently, on October 29, 1976,
these courageous Masons founded a non-profit Corporation pursuant to
the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia and called it "The Foundation
for National Library and Museum on Americanism."
The centerpiece of this property was a ramshackle colonial style mansion
which had last been used as an upscale restaurant called "Collingwood on
the Potomac." This building had been vacant for a long time, and
consequently had fallen into disrepair. A call for help went out to
members of the Order of National Sojourners, Inc., and to patriotic
citizens all across the nation. Many responded enthusiastically with their
time, effort, talent and money. The committee reported back to the
National Sojourners National Convention in 1976, asking for and
obtaining a commitment from the organization for voluntary funding
In the years since, much has happened. The mortgage has been paid in
full! The building has been restored. Vinyl siding has been added to the
exterior. An elevator to the second floor has been installed. A building
for maintenance and storage has been built. A retaining wall has been
placed along the riverfront to prevent further erosion. Three flag poles
have been raised for display of the American Flag and the flags of
National Sojourners, Inc. and the Heroes of '76 (an affiliated Order). The
grounds have been magnificently landscaped; a beautifully split-rail fence
has been constructed around the property; wrought-iron gates have been
placed at the entrances.
It has become a showplace for Americanism and for Freemasonry.
But with all the emphasis on restoration and appearance, the Directors
never lost sight of the original purposes of the Foundation. First: to
provide a home for National Sojourners, Inc. The National Headquarters
of the Order moved into a suite of offices on the ground floor on April
1, 1978. Second: to acquire, catalogue, process, protect and present to
the public; documents, literature, artifacts and displays which tend to
promote, enhance and inspire patriotism in the citizens of the United
States and portray the best possible image of our Nation's development
to visitors from foreign lands; and further, to provide reference sources
for students seeking material for themes, essays, dissertations and theses
on the history of this nation. Stress has been placed upon, although has
not been limited to, the patriotic contributions made by members of the
In keeping with this goal the Foundation has amassed over 6000 volumes
of nonfiction books relating to American history and culture. The term
"non-fiction" isn't exactly correct because there are a few books of
fiction so historically accurate as to be of great value in the study of
Americana. An example is the book, My Antonia, by Willa Cather
which, although a book of fiction, is so historically accurate it is useful
as a reference.
Examples of the library's unique collections include both a complete six
volume set and an incomplete 39 volume set of the writings of George
Washington which lacks only three volumes to complete; an extensive
collection of American Indian history; a collection of Harpers Magazine
beginning with issue number one, from 1850 through 1910; an unusually
diverse and valuable 280 volume collection in the personal library of a
former U.S.A Chief of Staff.
Also contained in the library is a 19,000 volume micro-fiche set of the
History of American Civilization compiled by Encyclopedia Britannica and
the Smithsonian Institution. There are only two these sets in Northern
Also housed is a Library on Genealogy belonging to the District of
Columbia Chapter of the Descendants of the Mayflower.
In addition to the large collection described above, there is an
accumulation of over 400 books which relate Freemasonry in Colonial
America, and approximately 80 volumes on early British Masonry. The
library also has a collection of 47 American Grand Lodge Masonic Codes
and histories. Efforts are continuing to collect them all.
While many of the books in the library very old, thus far all have been
restored to mint condition through the generosity and talents of a
dedicated veteran of World War 1. This outstanding Mason restored
books for the Library of Congress and Smithsonian Institution until his
recent death at the age of 92.
There are many rooms in Collingwood which are dedicated to specific
purposes. One is an audio-visual room in which video and projection
equipment is available for viewing an extensive collection of photographic
slides and video tapes.
Another room, called the Heroes Room is dedicated to Masonic Heroes
who risked their lives, their honor, and their fortunes to help establish
This room features a series of electronic light boxes picturing several of
these great Masons along with an audio narration which describes some
of their exploits.
There is a large conference room containing a massive antique dining
room style table and adequate chairs suitable for small executive
conferences. The main library is exquisitely furnished with period pieces.
There are comfortable chairs conducive to reading and a large table on
which to spread out reference books while working on a project.
Outside the building is a gazebo which, in addition to being an attractive
landscaping feature, is often used for weddings. There is adequate room
and facilities to cater receptions on the magnificently landscaped grounds.
Collingwood hosts many such events each year. The maintenance
building in the rear of the mansion contains catering facilities such as
refrigeration, storage and clean-up accommodations. The elevator at the
rear of the building is accessible from both the outside and the inside,
making the second floor available for activities.
The Foundation exists entirely upon contributions from the public. Even
though the property is fully paid for, improvements and maintenance
continue. An effort is now under way to establish an endowment fund
which will ensure that the Foundation will endure forever. (All donations
are tax deductible.) The further in time we move from the American
Revolution, the more important Collingwood will become. Especially
needed are large bequests from the estates of patriotic Americans who
believe that this Foundation is vital to the best interests of America. To
this end the Directors of the Foundation are working to enlighten the
public about what is offered here. The Directors have produced a 29-
minute video tape which is suitable for presentation either on television
or as a meeting program. These video tapes are available free of charge
to responsible individuals to check-out and return.
For more information contact: Collingwood 8301 E. Boulevard Drive
Alexandria, Va. 22308 phone: 703-765-5000