Neil Horstman, 41, who has been executive director of the Historic Savannah Foundation in Georgia since 1982, has been named resident director of Mount Vernon, the stately home of George Washington.
Horstman, who will live on the 500-acre estate with his wife and daughter, will be the eighth resident director of Mount Vernon since the home of the first U.S. president was purchased by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association from John Augustine Washington, the great-grand-nephew of George Washington, in 1858. That year, the estate was opened to the public and made into a museum.
Horstman will assume his duties Oct. 13.
"It's really an unparalleled opportunity for me, because the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association is the oldest national historic preservation organization in the country and they're responsible for the most historic house in America," Horstman said in an interview last week.
Horstman, who was born in West Virginia and brought up in Ohio, began his career in 1969 in public administration working for the Appalachian Development Agency and later for the Department of Metropolitan Development in Indianapolis. From 1973 to 1976, he was executive director of the Indianapolis Regional Planning Commission.
"Then I decided to leave public administration because I got fed up with the bureaucratic side of city management," explained Horstman, who has an undergraduate degree in community planning from the University of Cincinnati and a master's degree in public affairs from Indiana University.
"I'm a doer and I wanted to see more get done," Horstman said. "I've always seen historic preservation as, among other things, a community management tool."
He was executive director of the the Preservation Alliance of Louisville for three years, and was the executive director of the Historic Kansas City Foundation for three years before becoming executive director of the Historic Savannah Foundation. Horstman succeeds John Harbour, who resigned this spring after three years as resident director. The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association declined to say why he resigned.
"The most important aspect of my job as resident director of Mount Vernon will be protection of the site and maintaining the integrity of the property," Horstman said.
"That's not easy to do with over a million visitors coming to Mount Vernon every year," he added. The White House is the only other historic house in the country that has as many visitors as Mount Vernon.
In the early 1850s, the mansion, which was built by George Washington's father in 1735 and originally encompassed 8,000 acres, was in serious disrepair. The family offered to sell it to the federal government and to the State of Virginia for $200,000, but both offers were turned down.
In 1853, Ann Pamela Cunningham founded the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, the nonprofit organization that owns and operates Mount Vernon. The group raised $200,000 in five years, and bought the estate in 1858. The association has 29 members from throughout the country.
"Although Mr. Horstman has the experience and the determination of a modern day executive, we feel that he brings to Mount Vernon a sense of style and grace, two old-fashioned qualities that we respect and admire," said Eugenia Seamans, regent of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association.
"I have learned that nonprofit management is a business. It's an art just like running any profit corporation," Horstman said. Mount Vernon operates on an annual budget of $8 million. Horstman will oversee 100 full-time and about 50 part-time employes.
Last year in Savannah, Horstman started a roundtable of various nonprofit musuems and art organizations, "so that staff directors could just meet periodically to discuss problems," he said. "I think something like that would be very helpful in the Washington area if it doesn't already exist."
He also plans to speak to local civic groups to stay in touch with the surrounding community and to let people know about activities at the estate.
About four families live on the estate in houses built during the last century. Horstman said he is "very excited about living in that sort of beautiful environment."