James Buchanan 15th President, 1857-1861

Birthplace, Stony Batter, Pennsylvania
This park is nestled in the gap of Tuscarora Mountain. Dedicated in honor of the 15th president of the United States, this narrow, peaceful hollow is the site of James Buchanan’s birthplace. A stone pyramid monument surrounded by majestic conifers stands on the site of the original cabin where he was born. Buck Run is a native brook trout stream.

Cove Gap, Buchanan’s birthplace, is a far cry from the modern world that many Americans take for granted. Though quiet and solitude now reign, the spirit of this place would have been much different on April 23, 1791, the day of James Buchanan’s birth.

Then, it was the western edge of civilization; a place alive with the sights and sounds of a center of commerce. Though the surrounding Allegheny Mountains provided a formidable barrier to those seeking a way west, Cove Gap’s cut through two of three parallel mountains made a westward journey a little easier. During those days, anyone seeking a route west passed through this gap.

In 1789, James Buchanan’s father bought this place, first called Tom’s Trading Place, in its heyday, complete with cabins, barns, stables, storehouses, store and orchard. He renamed it Stony Batter after the Buchanan home in Northern Ireland and continued to operate the business until moving it to nearby Mercersburg when young James reached the age of six. Though young when he left Stony Batter, Buchanan’s first home left a lasting impression. Years later in 1865, the owner of the site invited the former President to visit his birthplace. Buchanan wrote in reply, “It is a rugged but romantic spot, and the mountain and mountain stream under the scenery captivating. I have warm attachments for it…”

Birthplace Cabin, Mercersburg Academy, Mercersburg,Pennsylvania
The log cabin where James Buchanan was born was taken from Stony Batter to Chambersburg and in 1953, it was moved to its present site on the Mercersburg Academy campus.

Buchanan Boyhood Home, The Buchanan Hotel, Mercersburg, Pennsylvania
In 1796, James Buchanan, Sr., erected this large and handsome brick house. Here the future president, James Buchanan, spent his boyhood. The Buchanan family had living quarters on the second floor while operating a small store. The home was then purchased by James O. Carson and later by the McAfee brothers, who enlarged it in the Italianate style, converted it to a hotel, and in 1909 sold it to C.W. McLaughlin, who renamed it Hotel Mercer. His son, Jack McLaughlin, renamed it the James Buchanan Hotel. It is still opened as a pub and residential hotel.

Home, Wheatland, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Built in 1828, the Wheatland mansion is a fine example of federal architecture. It was constructed for wealthy Lancaster lawyer and banker, William Jenkins. Jenkins named the estate “The Wheatlands” because of the lush wheat fields that surrounded the property. In 1848, while serving as Secretary of State, James Buchanan purchased the 22 acres of land, the mansion and its dependencies for $6,750. He also abbreviated the name of his estate to “Wheatland”.

The floor plan consists of a main central block with wings extending on either side. The central section has two rooms on the first floor flank the “T-shaped” entry and stair hall and two rooms on the second floor. There is an additional small room on the second floor above the front portion of the entrance hall. The west wing contains two rooms on both the first and second floors, while the east wing consists of only one room per floor. The first floor contains the parlor, dining/sitting room, library, family dining room and warming kitchen. The second floor contains a guest room, three family bedrooms and the housekeeper’s bedroom.

Buchanan described Wheatland as “a beau ideal of a statesman’s abode.” Buchanan had great affection for his Wheatland and praised “the comforts and tranquility of home as contrasted with the troubles, perplexities, and difficulties” of his public life. Buchanan lived in his beloved Wheatland for twenty years, until his death there on June 1, 1868.

Gravesite, Woodward Hill Cemetery, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
James Buchanan seemed eager to simply get out of the White House before the real disaster ensued. Though Buchanan vocally supported the Union cause, many branded him an appeaser of the South and lover of slavery. Finally, the former president decided to write a book telling his side of the story. It saw print in 1866, one year after the war ended, and the public largely ignored the book. Buchanan’s book blames the Civil War on the Republican Party and the abolitionists. After the book’s publication, Buchanan all but vanished from public life. He retreated inside the walls of his home and saw only close friends, and died there on June 1, 1868. He was buried in Woodward Hill Cemetery in that same town. This cemetery was established between 1849 and 1852 by Trinity Lutheran Church after the church graveyard became full. The cemetery became a separate association in 1856.