Pa. estate displays president’s history

By Rebecca Sloan

The estate houses personal items that give insight into Buchanan’s life and term.

LANCASTER, Pa. — James Buchanan was the only U.S. president who never married and the only U.S. president born and reared in Pennsylvania.

He served in the White House before the Civil War — a tumultuous time when Southern states were seceding and tensions were running high over slavery and states’ rights.

He was a self-made man who worked his way up the ladder of success as first a lawyer and then a politician.

During his term as secretary of state under President Polk, he negotiated land deals that expanded the United States to include California, Texas and Oregon.

In short, Buchanan led a very remarkable life.

Tourists can learn more about his remarkable life when they visit Wheatland, the Lancaster estate Buchanan owned from 1848 until his death in 1868.

Decorated with family heirlooms and period furnishings, this sprawling Federal-style mansion is on the outskirts of Lancaster in an upscale historic district.

From the first glimpse of its red brick elegance sitting atop a shady green hillside, visitors will feel as if they’re stepping back in time.

Built in 1828 for the Jenkins family and called The Wheatlands because of the surrounding fields of waving grain, Buchanan first fell in love with Wheatland when he visited there as a young man.

Buchanan bought the property in 1848 and was its proud owner until his death in 1868.

His presence lingers. During a tour, visitors will see the desk where Buchanan penned letters, the bed he slept in, the china he ate off of and even the bathtub he used.

There’s also a room dedicated to Buchanan’s 1856 political campaign, which he organized from Wheatland.

The display includes campaign banners and political cartoons and satires focusing on the Democratic candidate who would become the 15th president of the United States.

Since Buchanan was a bachelor, he appointed his adopted niece, Harriet Lane, as his official first lady during his term in the White House.

An accomplished, attractive, elegant, powerhouse of a woman, Lane excelled in her role as White House hostess and is remembered as one of the most successful first ladies ever.

She hobnobbed with Queen Victoria, organized parties with artists and great thinkers as guests, was active in prison reform and eventually endowed a home for invalid children at the John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

Attractive and popular, Lane had several beaux but did not marry until age 36.

She spent many years at Wheatland with her uncle, and a dignified portrait of her hangs on the wall just inside the rear entry of the mansion.

Her presence in the home goes far beyond the commanding portrait, however.

Many of her personal items are on display throughout Wheatland including a prayer bench, an ornate writing desk, an 1865 grand piano, a sidesaddle and a black beaded gown.

Besides learning more about Buchanan and Lane, Wheatland visitors will also learn more about daily life in the 1800s.

Servants slept in the attic and were locked in at night, for example.

Cooking was done in the basement on an open fireplace where it was cool, and numerous windows helped ventilate the home during the heat of summer.

Shutters on the mansion’s exterior made it secure, and a backyard garden provided vegetables and herbs.

The garden is still there, packed with heirloom veggies, and the Wheatland grounds also include the original smokehouse, carriage house and privy.

Wheatland is located at 1120 Marietta Ave. — one of the oldest roads in the United States.

Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays April through October, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays during November and December.

Wheatland is closed Sundays.

Call (717) 392-8721 for more information.

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