During our recent trip to Pennsylvania, Bobby, my husband, and I, along with my Uncle Jay and Aunt Kim, finally visited the birthplace of James Buchanan, the 15th president of the United States. I say finally because ever since we have been visiting Jay and Kim, Bobby has expressed the desire to stop and check the historical site out. I had resisted, not because I have anything against James Buchanan (I honestly didn’t know much about him), but because it seemed inconvenient. His birthplace is “on the way” to other sites, not a specific destination unto itself. Boy, was I wrong!
James Buchanan was born near Mercersburg, Pennsylvania in Cove Gap near the Buck Run stream. This had been on the edge of the frontier when he was growing up. It is now a small park with the stream running it through it and a monument in place of where the president’s boyhood home had been. The cabin itself was moved to the campus of Mercersburg Academy, a private college preparatory boarding school.
What I am finding out during our various trips is that there is much hidden history all around us. Had we not agreed to go along with Bobby’s idea to visit the birthplace and park, we would have missed it.
The cabin is nestled in a corner of Mercersburg Academy’s campus. We needed the GPS to guide us to the right location. It is a small cabin with one room and what appears to be a loft.
We couldn’t go inside, it was locked, but we did peer through the windows. (I’m really not sure we were supposed to do that because there was landscaping around the cabin, but hey, sometimes you just gotta do stuff…)
There was a stone fireplace, a table and chairs and steps that led upstairs. The historical marker said that James Buchanan was born there and lived in the cabin with his siblings. (He had 10, but I’m not sure how many of them were born when they lived in the cabin.)
After we visited the cabin, we drove to the State Park. It would be easy to miss if you weren’t looking for it. It is off of the main thoroughfare but not by much. However, once you drive into the park it is quiet and serene. The Buck Run stream offers a beautiful setting for reflection and contemplation.
It was a bit rainy that day, April 22 (which so happened to be the day before James Buchanan’s birthday) when we visited the park. We were the only ones there. I could imagine that it would be nice place to visit for a Sunday picnic and hike.
There is a large pyramid shaped monument marking the place where his birthplace had once stood. There were several historical markers that explained his early childhood, his ascent to presidency and the efforts made by his niece to have his birthplace commemorated.
An interesting fact that I learned during our visit was that James Buchanan had never married. He was our only single president. As one of the historical markers explained he had been engaged but that his fiance had died tragically, which broke his heart.
I was intrigued when I read that, so later I did a little bit of research online. There are different stories about what had happened, but apparently his fiance broke off the engagement and then fell into despair. It is speculated that she died from a broken heart or perhaps took her own life. Whatever happened, her family blamed Buchanan and refused to let him attend her funeral. I think that is very sad.
History doesn’t judge Buchanan’s presidency very positively. He was president right before the Civil War, so there probably was much unrest during his four year term. But regardless of this, being able to see his birthplace — both cabin and location — transported a group of soggy visitors from the 21st century back to frontier days of our country. All thanks to Bobby!