Buchanan's Birthplace State Park
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.
Buchanan's Birthplace State Park is an 18.5-acre park nestled in a gap of the Tuscarora Mountain in Franklin County. The park and surrounding forested mountains offer an abundance of beauty throughout the year.
Picnicking: Picnic tables, drinking water, restrooms and two pavilions are in a wooded setting near Buck Run.
Fishing: Buck Run flows through the park and provides a population of native trout.
Complete information on fishing rules and regulations in Pennsylvania is available from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission Web site.
Access for People with Disabilities
If you need an accommodation to participate in park activities due to a disability, please contact the park you plan to visit.
The Birthplace of a President
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..."
A Man For the Job
Although he began his life in a remote spot in Pennsylvania, James Buchanan's education and career of public service shine brightly when compared to other presidents. Historians are so impressed with Buchanan's credentials that they often rate his training for presidential service as perhaps second only to John Quincy Adams and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Buchanan graduated from nearby Dickinson College in Carlisle and later became a lawyer in the state capital of Lancaster at the young age of 21. While in Lancaster, Buchanan became active in the Federalist Party, the predecessor of the Democratic Party. His political career began in earnest when he was elected to serve two terms as a Pennsylvania Assemblyman. From there, he rose to the U.S. Congress. He served 10 years as a U.S. Congressman and 10 years as a U.S. Senator. Buchanan built on his federal government experience by serving internationally - two years as the foreign minister to Russia and four years as foreign minister to Great Britain. Buchanan also served four years as Secretary of State before running for the Presidency. Buchanan's solid reputation both at home and abroad led to his election to the highest political post in the land. James Buchanan became the 15th President of the United States on March 4, 1857. Once nominated, he never lost an election during his political career.
Buchanan had an eccentric way of carrying his head. It tilted to one side, possibly because one of his blue eyes was near-sighted and the other far-sighted. His topknot and his somewhat cold and aloof bearing did not detract from his distinguished appearance. Having the qualities of grace and tact, Buchanan was a fine example of a diplomat.
Did You Know?
Harriet Lane Johnston
As the youngest child of James Buchanan's sister Jane, Harriet Lane Johnston lived a life of great triumphs and heartbreaking tragedies. She was born May 9, 1830, in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. In February 1839, at age nine, she lost her mother. A short time later in November 1840, her father died. After the death of her parents, Harriet and her older sister were first set to stay with their father's relatives in Charleston, Virginia. But then, for some reason, they were allowed to choose who they wished to live with. Harriet chose her favorite uncle, James Buchanan.
James Buchanan became guardian to Harriet Lane in 1842. Harriet was sometimes considered a strong-willed, quick-tempered and devilish young lady. Nonetheless, she was dearly loved by her uncle.
Buchanan arranged for Harriet Lane's proper education and refinement. First, she spent a year at the Maiden Crawford Sister's Boarding School in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She went on to a Charleston, Virginia, boarding school run by her cousin, which was also attended by her sister. Buchanan wrote Harriet in 1843 and expressed his wish that she become accomplished and educated, but more importantly, learn the proper government of the heart and temper. To round out her education, Harriet spent two years at the Georgetown Visitation Convent. There she enjoyed mythology and history, and graduated with honors.
In 1854, Harriet Lane joined her uncle in England where she was well-liked by Queen Victoria. James Buchanan became the 15th President of the United States in 1857. Since Buchanan never married, Harriet Lane acted as first lady. Lane was widely recognized among diplomatic circles for her charm and wit. It is said that she filled the White House with gaiety and flowers, guided its social life with enthusiasm and discretion, and had a captivating mixture of spontaneity and poise. First lady Harriet also pursued humanitarian causes such as hospital and prison reform and better treatment of the American Indian. The Chippewa Indians named her "The Great Mother of the Indians."
Harriet Lane returned with James Buchanan to his Wheatland home near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 1861. During the Civil War, she volunteered for four years as a nurse in the Division of the Unknown Heroines. In 1866, at the age of 36, she married Henry Elliot Johnston, a Baltimore banker. They went on to live an enjoyable family life in Baltimore. But, tragedy was not finished with her life. In the course of three years, she lost her immediate family. Her sons, ages 13 and 14, died 19 months apart in 1881 and 1882 from possible rheumatic fever. In 1884, her husband Henry died of pneumonia.
Her tragic losses only strengthened her humanitarianism. Just prior to her husband's death, Harriet Lane Johnston and her husband set up the Harriet Lane Home for Invalid Children. The home opened as the nation's first children's hospital in 1912 and became the teaching and research center in pediatrics for Johns Hopkins University. She also founded the Saint Albans School for Boys in Washington, D.C., as a fountainhead for the improvement of church music in America. The two-volume biography of James Buchanan by George Ticknor Curtis was financed and published in 1883 through Harriet Lane Johnston. Her will also made provision for Buchanan's letters to be published.
Harriet Lane Johnston had a keen interest in the arts. Her will stated that should a National Art Gallery be opened in Washington, D.C., her art collection was to be donated to the gallery. In 1906, the Smithsonian National Gallery opened, and her collection became the core of the new gallery.
At the age of 73, on July 3, 1903, Harriet Lane Johnston died, but she remains as famous as her uncle. She used the influence gained from living with her uncle to restore James Buchanan's political reputation after his death, advance medical research and treatment of children, back educational efforts for children and help foster government sponsorship of the arts.
A Quest for Honor
Harriet Lane Johnston's quest to honor her uncle through the creation of a monument began in the early 1880s. She made several attempts to purchase James Buchanan's birthplace, Stony Batter, but was unsuccessful throughout her lifetime. Even in 1893, when John Cessna, state representative from Bedford County, introduced a bill to erect a monument to James Buchanan, there was not enough support for the bill to become law.
In 1895, at the age of 65, Harriet Lane Johnston prepared her will with a provision for two monuments. Her will stated that upon her death $100,000 would be used to set up the James Buchanan Monument Fund. She chose a four-member board of trustees before her death to pursue her dream of a lasting tribute to her uncle. The will stipulated that the board had 15 years to build a monument at Stony Batter and/or receive permission from Congress to erect a statue in Washington D.C. If the projects weren't completed in the allotted time, the money would be turned over to the Harriet Lane Home for Invalid Children (later known as the Johns Hopkins Children's Hospital). Over the years, Harriet Lane Johnston made several additions and changes to her will, but never changed a word regarding the monuments.
When Harriet Lane Johnston died on July 3, 1903, the will was executed and the process was sent into motion to build the two monuments for her beloved uncle. Unfortunately, by the time of the will's execution, two of the trustees had passed away. The task of securing a lasting tribute to James Buchanan rested with two men - E. Francis Riggs, a Washington, D.C., banker, and Lawrason Riggs, a Baltimore lawyer. Lawrason Riggs was Lane Johnston's best choice, for it was he who became the driving force in making her dream a reality.
Mr. D.M.B. Shannon acquired Buchanan's birthplace in 1865 and refused Harriet Lane Johnston's offers to buy the land. In 1906, the Shannon heirs finally agreed to sell Stony Batter to the Rigg's and the James Buchanan Monument Fund for the astoundingly high price of $3,000 for 18 acres of mountain land. Lane Johnston stated in her will that the trustees were to erect a monument with "proper inscriptions" and suggested the monument be a huge rock or boulder in its natural state. In December 1906, the Baltimore Sun stated, "an agent of the trustees is even now searching the mountain range to find a native boulder." Why a boulder was not used for the monument is not known. Perhaps the difficulty in moving such a large stone made it impractical. The architectural firm, Wyatt & Nolting of Baltimore, Maryland, designed the monument in pyramid form, 38 feet square and 31 feet high. The inscription tablet, sill, seat and cap are constructed of 50 tons of hammered American gray granite. The pyramid structure contains 250 tons of native rubble and mortar. All faces of the stone show the original weathered surface.
Work began on the monument in October 1907 with a work force of 20 men. A small railroad was built to help the workers move the stone from the mountainside to the monument site. By November, the work force increased to 35 men, and by late winter the monument was complete. The final instructions of the will for Stony Batter requested that the monument be enclosed in an iron railing for protection. The remaining grounds were for the enjoyment of the people of Pennsylvania. Finally, in the Pennsylvania Legislative Session of 1911, authorization was given for the Commonwealth to accept from the only surviving trustee, Lawrason Riggs, the 18.5-acre James Buchanan Monument.
A Monument for the Capital
The most difficult task given to the trustees was left to Lawrason Riggs alone. He sought permission from the U.S. Congress to erect a monument to James Buchanan in Washington, D.C. The will stated no part of the fund was to be used to purchase a site. Harriet Lane Johnston's will also stated that a quote from friend and former cabinet member, Jeremiah S. Black, about James Buchanan be placed on the pedestal of the statue. The quote reads, "The incorruptible statesman whose walk was upon the mountain ranges of the law."
The trustees met soon after the reading of the will to select a sculptor and architect for the Washington, D.C. statue. They chose Hans Schuler as sculptor and William Gorden Beecher as architect. The National Commission of Fine Arts in Washington, D.C., approved the trustees' selection and plans for the monument, and suggested the south end of Meridian Hill Park as a site.
On January 31, 1916, Senator Blair Lee of Maryland introduced Senate Joint Resolution 93 to the first session of the 64th Congress. In February of the same year, House Joint Resolution 145 was introduced to the House of Representatives. Although the resolutions received favorable attention, they were not acted upon in the Senate. House and Senate Joint Resolution 70 and 49 were reintroduced in the first session of the 65th Congress. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts strongly opposed the monument, but Senator John Walter Smith of Maryland rallied in defense of Buchanan and the monument. The resolution passed on June 18, 1918, by a vote of 51 to 11, only six days before the will's 15-year deadline.
World War I brought many delays, and in the 1920s progress on Meridian Hill Park and the Buchanan Memorial was slow. Finally on June 26, 1930, the James Buchanan Memorial was unveiled, a 9.5-foot bronze statue on a granite pedestal in front of an 82-foot panel with two carved figures at each end representing law and diplomacy. President Herbert Hoover accepted the monument for the citizens of the United States.
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Buchanan's Birthplace State Park
Information on nearby attractions is available from the Franklin County Visitors Bureau. www.explorefranklincountypa.com
For information on Wheatland, James Buchanan's Lancaster Estate, contact the James Buchannan Foundation. www.wheatland.org
Nearby Cowans Gap State Park offers swimming, boating, fishing, picnicking, hiking, hunting, family camping, family cabins, organized group camping, visitor center and an environmental education program.
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Buchanan's Birthplace State Park Map (.pdf) (537 kb, 11/13)
Interactive GIS Map
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The park is located between McConnellsburg and Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, near the village of Cove Gap along PA Route 16. From U.S. Route 30 at Fort Loudon, Pennsylvania take PA Route 75 south and follow the signs to Cove Gap and the park.
GPS DD: Lat. 39.86813 Long. -77.95282
Driving Directions: The Interactive GIS Map has turn-by-turn driving directions to the park office from the Park Information Window. Please note that the background maps are maintained by a variety of public sources and driving directions usually go to the nearest large road.
Buchanan's Birthplace State Park