1120 Marietta Avenue, Lancaster Township, Lancaster Co., Pennsylvania

Built in 1828, for William Jenkins (1779-1853) and his wife, Mary Field Hubley (1789-1867). It contains 17-rooms over 13,000-square feet and is also known as the "James Buchanan House" for the 15th President of the United States who lived here for twenty years. But, it was the Jenkins' who named it "The Wheatlands" most likely because it was built on, and surrounded by, wheat fields. In 1836, they sold the estate for $9,000 to their son-in-law Thomas Fuller Potter who four years later (1845) sold the house plus 22-acres for the reduced price of $6,750 to the soon-to-be U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, William M. Meredith, for his summer home. Just three years later (1848), Meredith sold the estate for the same price to soon-to-be President James Buchanan....

This house is best associated with...

William Morris Meredith

U.S. Secretary of the Treasury & Attorney-General of Pennsylvania


James Buchanan

15th President of the United States (1857-1861); died unmarried


Harriet Lane

Mrs Harriet Rebecca (Lane) Johnston; Acting First Lady of the Unites States


Henry Elliott Johnston

Henry Elliott Johnston, Banker, of Baltimore


James Buchanan was (prior to the election of Joe Biden in 2020) the only President of the United States elected from Pennsylvania and he remains to be the only President who never married. Except for his years in London as the U.S. Minister to the Court of St. James (1853-1856) and his time in the White House (1857-1861), Wheatland was his sole home until his death in 1868. Buchanan left the house to his niece who'd acted for him as an Ambassador's wife in London and his First Lady in Washington, Harriet Lane, who prior to her marriage had lived with him at Wheatland when he described her as, "a wilful domestic outlaw". By 1868, she was married to Baltimore banker Henry Elliott Johnston and they kept Wheatland as a summer home. But after Johnston died in 1884, and having outlived her children, she sold Wheatland that year to George B. Willson for $20,000.

Willson reduced its landholdings to 11-acres but maintained the house as his home until his death in 1929 when he bequeathed it to his cousin, Mary Willson Rettew, who he'd taken in to live with him after her parents died. Having already built herself a house on the estate at 1043 Buchanan Avenue, she died before she was able to realize her dream of having the house saved for posterity as a museum to Buchanan; and, although she never lived here, Mary paid for a caretaker to live in and look after its extensive collection of antiques. To help pay for its upkeep she further reduced its landholdings to just 6-acres.

Mary died in 1934 at a time in America when a swathe of historically-inclined ladies of a certain ilk were ensuring that houses like Wheatland were taken out of private hands and opened to the public. Mrs Dorothy (Schaeffer) Shand, Mrs Mary (Hopkins) Bausman, Mrs Frances (Baer) Atlee, and Mrs Henry A. Rohrer were no exception and in 1935 they established the "James Buchanan Foundation for the Preservation of Wheatland" subsequently raising $40,000 that allowed it to be saved for the nation. It is still run as a house museum today and remains almost identical to how Buchanan would have remembered it, and as he said in 1860: "If my successor should be as happy in entering the White House as I shall on returning to Wheatland he will indeed be a happy man".

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Contributed by Mark Meredith on 04/09/2022 and last updated on 28/01/2024.
Image Courtesy of Jim Bowen, CC-BY-2.0
George Bolivar Willson (1856-1929)
Mary Willson Rettew (1865-1934)


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