FEBRUARY 25, 1955
NEW YORK—I realize that by now I am running several days late in reporting on my brief but very full trip to the Middle West, but there were so many things to do and see that I just haven't been able to keep up with my datelines. So, while I am writing this from New York, I must tell you about our last stop, which was in Lancaster, Pa., last Sunday.
We reached Lancaster a little before four p.m. and I was taken at once to see "Wheatland," the historic home of James Buchanan, who was our President from 1857 to 1861. The house is a charming old place with a broad lawn and beautiful old trees in front of it. Approaching the building, one drives up the tree-lined avenue and gets out to one side and then on up to the broad portico.
The house itself was built in 1828 for William Jenkins, who was president of the Farmer's Bank of Lancaster. The next owner purchased the house in 1845. He was William Morris Meredith, a prominent citizen of Pennsylvania and Secretary of the Treasury in 1848 and 1849.
James Buchanan, who was then Secretary of State in President Polk's Administration, bought the house in 1848, and it is interesting to find that the cash payment was $6,750. As one looks at the high-ceilinged rooms and the substantial building, one wonders how it was built for that sum of money if one's mind is conditioned to any modern building prices.
Many important men came to visit James Buchanan in this house, which was presided over by his niece, Harriet Lane, who later presided over the White House.
The house has many characteristics of the "gentleman's home" of that day. A broad hall runs through from the front door to the back door, which opens out on another lawn and a brick terrace. The rooms open out on either side of the hall, and in the study where James Buchanan worked there are two old bookcases that belonged to him. On the table in this room there is a basket that is always filled with pretzels, which Mr. Buchanan is said to have always kept on hand to munch!
The Junior League is responsible for the organizing that has made it possible to buy this old estate and preserve it. I was told that in the spring the walk up to the house is beautiful with the dogwood trees and lilac bushes in bloom. Even in winter, however, some century-old boxwood attracts one's attention and admiration.
As on many such old estates there is a smokehouse at the back, with an ice house under it, and, to balance it on the other side is an outbuilding. Farther back what was once a stable has been converted into a Junior League home, which looks charming though I did not have time to go into it.
I enjoyed very much the short time I was able to spend in the house as I saw many interesting things, though, of course, some of the furniture is of the period and was not actually owned by James Buchanan.
The rest of my visit I will have to tell you about in another column.