See White House, Mount Rushmore replicas at attraction

    By Carolina Cardona - Reporter 

CLERMONT, Fla. - If you've ever visited Clermont, you might have noticed a one-of-a-kind place that attracts thousands each year because of the creative history lesson it offers visitors.

It's an original roadside attraction that started in the '60s, way before some of the Orlando-area's popular theme parks existed. Although this one may not have roller coasters, it is rich in something else. A place where education meets entertainment, the Presidents Hall of Fame, in Clermont, is best known for its miniature White House, which has attracted both presidents and royalty.

It's a unique Central Florida attraction with the only White House replica of its size, an absolute work of art that includes thousands of handmade pieces.

"I served as ambassador to France for our young, youthful government and got them to come over and help us with the late unpleasantness with the British empire. And I worked on this little document called the Constitution," said William E. Baker-Palenik, who portrays Benjamin Franklin, one of America's founding fathers.

The 55-year-old surprises visitors while they tour the attraction and provides them with some historical facts. A visit to the attraction means a lesson in American history told through replicas and original pieces. A tour starts with the most iconic symbol of our nation's capital. 

"This is what it looked like when the White House was being built and they started it in 1792. They finished it in 1800. You have George Washington represented; he never lived in the White House, and he's today with James Hoban, who was the architect. They used both free and slave labor when they were building the White House," Joy England, the coordinator for the Presidents Hall of Fame, said.

The building was a wax museum in the '60s and later bought by current owner John Zweifel so he could set up his love for all things presidential. "All your presidents are to height and size," England said.

Over the years, several presidents have donated items to the attraction. There's even a voting machine used in West Palm Beach during the infamous 2000 presidential election and recount.

But the Presidents Hall of Fame is most famous for the miniature White House -- an attraction England said the owner built as a gift for the people. "He wanted to share it with everybody," England said. Zweifel and his wife, Jan, spent a lifetime working to create the mansion so that those who can't visit Washington, D.C., can experience history in the making through the exhibit. 

It took more than four decades to get every detail in place. "It's about as close as you can get because John and Jan have gone to the White House over the years. They'd been invited by different presidents. He went and took thousands of pictures," England said.

The owners make sure to have the rooms updated, especially the Oval Office. Even children seem to love it.

"The replica of the White House was amazing. Just the general history is cool," 12-year-old Alex Wawrzyniak, a tourist visiting from Boston, said.

It took 32 years and more than 60,000 hours to build the masterpiece. From the West Wing to the East Wing, the Rose Garden and all the way to the Kennedy Garden, visitors pretty much get a glimpse of every room -- something the actual White House tours do not allow. 

The replica has traveled to all 50 states and even as far as the Netherlands, England and Japan. Each city recognizes the masterpiece with a key to their city.

If you can't go to South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore, the Presidents Hall of Fame has a replica of it as well.

The roadside attraction is open seven days a week.



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