History of the Preservation of President James Buchanan's Wheatland

by Patrick Clarke, Director of President James Buchanan's Wheatland

James Buchanan died at Wheatland on June 1, 1868. The 22 acre Wheatland estate was inherited by his niece, Harriet Lane Johnston. Mrs. Johnston, whose principal residence was in Baltimore, used Wheatland primarily as a summer retreat. She sold the estate in 1884 to Lancaster businessman, George B. Willson. Although Willson eventually installed electricity and plumbing, he apparently had a great respect for Wheatland's historical significance and made very few structural alterations. However, in 1893, Willson sold 13 of Wheatland's 22 original acres to Henry Williamson. Upon George Willson's death in 1929, Wheatland was inherited by his cousin, Mary Willson Rettew. Mary Rettew died in 1934, leaving 5 ¾ acres of the estate and funds for the establishment of what later became the Lancaster County Historical Society.


Wheatland sat vacant for several years as part of Mary Rettew's estate. However, by the summer of 1935, a number of prominent Lancastrians had come to believe that Wheatland should not be sold for use as a private residence or commercial establishment but, rather, should be forever preserved as a "shrine" to the memory of President Buchanan. Mrs. William Shand, Mrs. J.W.B. Bausman, Mrs. John L. Atlee Jr., and Mrs. Henry A. Rohrer of the Junior League of Lancaster formed a "Shrine Committee". A 1935 solicitation letter from Mary Bausman sets forth the goal of raising funds to purchase Wheatland from the Retttew estate, and "to sponsor a movement which would create the "Wheatland Foundation."

An "Advisory Council" was established consisting of Benjamin C. Atlee, President Judge of the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas, Dr. H.M.J. Klein, Chairman of the History Department of Franklin and Marshall College, and James H. Ross, Mayor of Lancaster. Committee meetings were held in the City Council Chambers with the Mayor presiding.

Articles of Incorporation for The James Buchanan Foundation for the Preservation of Wheatland were filed August 11, 1935. The Foundation signed an Agreement of Sale for the purchase of Wheatland with the Mary Rettew Estate on February 27, 1936.

Wheatland was formally dedicated on October 14, 1937. Governor Earle presented the address. James Hale Steinman, Chairman of the Dedication Committee, dedicated Wheatland with the words, "I now dedicate you to the service of the people of his community...of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and ...of the United States of America. May you endure forever!"

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