Pop quiz! Which president was James Buchanan? No worries, I had to look it up to be sure, too. He was number 15.
So what? What did he do? Who was he? As it turns out, this largely overlooked president was quite the interesting fellow. I recently had the opportunity to visit President James Buchanan’s Wheatland in Lancaster, PA, and I was excited to blog about the experience for you. I hope you’ll be inspired to visit! Here’s everything you need to know to make your plans.
President Buchanan’s home is located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, also famously known for its Amish community. The address is 230 N Presndent Ave.; Lancaster, PA 17603. It is an easy day trip from Philadelphia, PA; Wilmington, DE; Harrisburg, PA; Baltimore, MD; and about a 2.5-3 hour drive from Washington, D.C.
More here: The Best Weekend Trips in the United States
- Adults: $15
- Seniors 65 and up: $13
- Children ages 11-17; or students with valid ID: $10
- Children 10 and under: Free
- U.S. Military veterans and active duty members: Free (military members only)
Advance tickets are strongly suggested, but not required. Due to the limited hours (below), however, it’s definitely a good idea to purchase tickets early to ensure you get the time slot you prefer. Click here for advance tickets.
*Note: James Buchanan’s Wheatland is not part of the National Park Service, so NPS passes are not accepted here.
Also in the area: The Ultimate Guide to Valley Forge National Historic Site
The home and museum are open for tours Tuesday-Saturday from 10:00am-3:00pm (last tour begins at 3:00pm). Tours run every 30 minutes. The property is closed on Sundays and Mondays, so be sure to factor that into your plans.
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Know Before You Go
So, there are two important things to be aware of before you decide to visit, especially if you have small kids. First of all, Buchanan was the president just before the Civil War broke out. There is a lot of talk about the Civil War in complicated terms. Also, President Buchanan is our only bachelor president. There is much speculation in recent years about his sexuality. He may or may not have been our country’s first gay president; there’s really no definitive way to know.
If those are not topics you want to have in-depth conversations about with your kids, maybe wait to visit until they are a little older. There is a similar disclaimer outside the video room at the Lancaster History Visitor Center, but it’s a bit of a journey to get there, so you might want to know these things before you go!
There is plenty of parking near the entrance of the main building, and parking is free!
Keep reading: How to Visit The Betsy Ross House, Philadelphia
Your ticket includes a 22-minute video about Buchanan’s presidency, a 50-minute tour of the house, and access to the Lancaster history museum. For planning purposes, they recommended duration for your visit is 1.5-2 hours if you want to do everything.
Highlights of the Tour
The Pre-tour Video
Okay, I’m usually not a fan of videos to set up a tour. Usually they’re kind of cheesey, kind of boring, and there is almost always a slant. This 22-minute video, however, was excellent, and I actually recommend it!
People generally don’t really know a lot about President Buchanan because his presidency is considered a failure in many opinions. He was, ironically, perhaps the most qualified President we’ve ever had. With this resume, he was a shoe-in, but the video explains why his presidency was not all it should have been! By the time he was elected president, he had already:
- Served in the War of 1812
- Been a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives
- Served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives
- Been Chairman of the House Judicial Committee
- Been an Ambassador to Russia and to the United Kingdom
- Served as a U.S. Senator
- Been appointed Secretary of State
- Been asked to serve on the Supreme Court by both President Jackson and President Polk
Additionally, I appreciated that the historians in the video were not afraid to point out that people thought very differently about a variety of things that we are so concerned about in the present day. Usually there is a slant that appeals to people “today,” but that is completely foreign to people in history. The video was very well done, so don’t skip it!
I’m admittedly not that interested in dishes, but these have such interesting stories! The pink dishes on top were acquired second-hand from a French ambassador. The red dishes below were bought new before Buchanan was elected, and they were used at Wheatland. When Buchanan moved into the White House, he chose to take these dishes with him instead of buying a new set, saving the taxpayers’ money!
All the Original Pieces
Historic homes are very often furnished and decorated with pieces from the time period, or reproductions of things the people who lived there had or may have had. Wheatland, however, has 70% of its original furnishings from President Buchanan’s time living there! That’s is a huge percentage, but what’s even better is the fact that there is a binder in each room with details about each piece. If you ask a question about anything in a room, your tour guide can tell you about it!
The Portraits of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert
The portraits on the wall in the photo below are of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. These were given to Buchanan’s niece, Harriet Buchanan, as a personal gift from the Prince of Wales while she was serving as First Lady during Buchanan’s Presidency. Harriet and the Prince had met previously while she was in London with her Uncle James, while he was the U.S. Diplomat to the United Kingdom, and they became friends.
These portraits hung in the White House during Buchanan’s Presidency, but when they moved back to Wheatland, Harriet took the portraits home to Wheatland with her. The newspapers had a heyday and accused her of stealing them! She had documentation showing that they were a personal gift, not a gift to the government in any capacity, so nothing happened with that, but they still hang in the house today.
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