Since Franklin Roosevelt, every modern U.S. president has opened his own presidential library.

On Friday, President George Washington, the nation’s first, finally will get his turn, as a state-of-the-art presidential library is christened in his honor.

Washington’s beloved Mount Vernon steps into a bold new era with the formal opening of The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington.

Some 800 dignitaries, officials, and VIPs were on hand to witness the unveiling of a library purpose-built to preserve the original books and papers from Gen. Washington’s personal collection.

Noted historian and best-selling author David McCullough was the keynote speaker.

The 45,000-square-foot library includes a residence for visiting scholars. The collection includes approximately 450 handwritten letters and manuscripts, including Washington’s personal diary. They will be housed in a secure area dubbed “The Vault.”

The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association — the organization that owns and maintains Washington’s stately, colonial-era manse on the banks of the Potomac just southwest of the Nation’s Capital — anticipates that the new library will trigger renewed scholarly study of America’s first president. It will host conferences, seminars, and educational programs available to every student in America via the Internet.

“I’m absolutely thrilled,” says philanthropist Gay Hart Gaines, former chairman of the association’s board and a key planner and fundraiser who played an instrumental role in bringing the library to fruition. “It’s so wonderful. The grand opening of the library is now a dream come true.”

The library represents the fulfillment of one of Washington’s personal dreams as well.