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Photographer: Kelbert McFarland Photography


Penn President's Houses

Today in history at the Philadelphia Convention, it was decided that there would be the first presidential election in America. Obviously that election resulted in George Washington becoming president, but since we have already covered him in this series and in honor of the convention being held in Pennsylvania we will look at the next Pennsylvanian president in our line up: James Buchanan.

Buchanan is the third Scots-Irish president after Monroe and Polk, who belonged to ancient clans. He was indeed from the ancient noble Clan Buchanan. His family can trace their lineage back to the legendary High Kings of Ireland who ruled from around the 17th century BEFORE CHRIST; prior to that they were kings of Spain which was conquered by Celtic people. They were part of the O'Neill dynasty, the most historically prominent family in Ireland, who were in power in the middle ages.

The Clan Buchanan in Scotland was formed for the family around the year 1000 from the sons of those Irish Kings. President Buchanan's last many times great-grandfather to be the actual Chief of the Clan was 12th Chief Sir Walter Buchanan in the 1400s. After that the job would be his cousins'. Over the next centuries, his branch of the clan became the lords and ladies of Carbeth then Gartincaber in Scotland, and finally Blairlusk back in Ireland. Coincidentally, Clan Buchanan was left without a chief in 1681, the year that 15th Chief John Buchanan left no heir, and the year after our president's first ancestor not to be passed a title was born (Thomas). The clan went on without a chief until last year when the appropriate heir finally took his position: John Michael Baillie-Hamilton Buchanan (above). President James' branch went on living in Ireland until his father James Sr. who was great-grandson of Thomas decided to come to Pennsylvania. Pretty much a classic "second sons" story in which James Sr. quickly became the wealthiest man in town- Cove Gap, Pennsylvania.

Buchanan Castle

President Buchanan, like so many other presidents we have written about was born in a log cabin which was temporary for his aforementioned wealthiest-man-in-town father. After school, he moved to the then-capital of Pennsylvania, Lancaster. He purchased a large federal style house called Wheatland.

Wheatland was built in 1828. It was named Wheatland by the bank president who built it on hundreds of acres of land which were turned over to the bank by a farmer. It is the only house Buchanan owned and his niece inherited it when he died and used it as a summer house. A lithograph of the house was actually used in his presidential campaign in the south as they thought it would make voters feel he lived a plantation lifestyle like theirs based on the appearance of the property. The Junior League of Lancaster created the James Buchanan Foundation for the Preservation of Wheatland.

The house opened to the public and was decorated in 19th century style, including much of the original furniture.

Buchanan's bedroom (above) shows a set of cherry wood furniture much like the one we inherited from our own 19th century ancestors in the south. It is funny that he used architecture and interiors to establish commonality with the south.

His desk shown above has a collection of items in empire style mostly. These types of brass figures are popular today in many design styles- particularly bookends etc.

Here is a bathroom in the house, shown with a set of matching porcelain bowls and soap dishes etc. People often use old pieces like this from bathrooms for tabletop today. If you are going to purchase an antique basin of some type and re-purpose as dinnerware, it is believed that they are now sterile through time. I would likely refrain and use it for display only for some reason.

The president's portrait hangs above a period clock and lanterns and vases in this room. He does not maintain a great reputation as he was president during the Civil War and succeeded by Lincoln. Yet, his house is one of the more known and visited of the presidential houses. We can see why based on the preservation and beauty of the house itself.