Come and celebrate George Washington’s 278th birthday

Published 10:35 am Thursday, February 11, 2010

A rare gem is located in the heart of Shelby County.

The Karl C. Harrison Museum of George Washington, located at 50 Lester Street in Columbiana, is filled with the largest collection of memorabilia of Washington and his descendents outside of Mt. Vernon, with artifacts that range from the Colonial period through 1865.

Bonnie Atchison, curator and historian of Washington, has been at the helm of the museum since 2004. Her immense knowledge of Washington and his descendents, the Revolutionary War era and the museum collection has made her tours the highlight of a visit to the museum.

On Feb. 22, the museum is honoring Washington’s 278th birthday — he was born Feb. 22, 1732 — with its first ever birthday celebration at the museum. Atchison has been planning this historic event for more than a year.

Two actresses from Georgia will give vignettes as the young and elderly Martha, dressed in period clothing.

A huge 278th birthday cake will greet guests, donated by the Columbiana Culture Club. The Novella Club will serve as hostesses, and refreshments will be served with special music of the Colonial period playing in the background.

The museum will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Atchison, dressed as Martha Washington, will be on hand to answer any questions.

A private reception will be held for elected officials and service organizations from 4 to 6 p.m.

More than 1,000 artifacts in the museum come from actual descendents of Washington.

Much of the collection comes from Charlotte Smith-Weaver, a sixth generation granddaughter of Martha, who lived in Chelsea.

Included in Smith-Weaver’s collection are also civil war artifacts due to her ancestor, Mary Randolph Custis, granddaughter of Martha, who married Robert E. Lee in 1831.

In addition, Anne Washington Leslie, granddaughter descendant of Augustine Washington, brother of Washington, heirlooms are on display.

The largest item in the museum is the bedroom suite of Augustine; the smallest is Washington’s writing instrument from his survey case; the oldest is the handwritten will of Martha’s first husband’s grandfather, Colonel Daniel Parke; and Atchison’s favorite is Martha Washington’s Bible.

“I wanted to honor the father of our county,” said Atchison. “I wanted to renew the interest of Washington’s vision for our nation: liberty, freedom, honor, hard work, patriotism; all the attributes that made Washington great.”

Come celebrate the 278th birthday of George Washington, the founder of our nation, on Feb. 22, 2010.

Phoebe Robinson can be reached by e–mail at