You know I love historic house tours. (See Tags in lower left—I like tours!) This love may have started with the Moss Mansion in Billings, Montana.  In Washington, DC, I’ve visited the Capitol once, the Anderson (Cincinnati Society) House and Library of Congress twice. (And done many other tours!) Let a docent lead me around and I’m a happy gal.

My cousin Nadine—Lancaster area resident—and I have spoiled ourselves with two home tours during my last trips.

House Tours – Wheatland

Autumn was a perfect time to see Wheatland, President James Buchanan’s home. I didn’t know much about the 15th president, so this was especially fun. We hear that he wasn’t a good president, but perhaps it’s more truthful to say he was a troubled one. He inherited a 30-year period of strife that culminated in the Civil War. It was not an easy time to be in politics. While he might not have left much of an impression on the country, he did on Lancaster County. 

President James Buchanan's Wheatland
President James Buchanan’s Wheatland, House Tour

The mansion was built in 1828 and both of us were intrigued by the architecture. Large windows, amazing fireplaces, and a bathroom with a shower. And for two avid readers, we wanted to browse the books in his expansive library. 

The 11 acre property includes a delightful, sprawling arboretum. Just look up occasionally so you don’t get bonked on the head by a falling black walnuts! (We think.)  

Buchanan was our only unmarried president and remained a bachelor. His niece, Harriet Lane, who grew up at Wheatland, served as his First Lady—a term she coined. 

The docent for our guided tour was utterly engaging. She’d been going to Wheatland since childhood and was thrilled to volunteer there.

A few things I learned:

  • Buchanan attended Dickinson College and later became a lawyer.
  • He had a long career in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
  • President Polk made him Secretary of State and he was Pierce’s Minister to England.

Wheatland Upcoming Tour:

  • May 7th – check the site for costs and times
  • Harriet Lane: America’s Fair First Lady of the Land
  • If you can’t get there in person, check out the 360 degree tours of the house. 

House Tours – Rock Ford

Spring was great for visiting Historic Rock Ford, home of Edward Hand. Are you, like me, clueless about who Hand was? Touring Mount Vernon a couple of years ago, didn’t prompt me to resurrect a memory of Edward Hand. Not only did he serve as George Washington’s Adjutant General during the Civil War, they were close friends. If I go to Mount Vernon again, you can bet I’ll be looking for mention of Hand!

The grounds of this 33 acre spread are open to the public and in the heart of Lancaster County Park. House tours are docent-led only, but the ticket price includes the museum. We had a delightful docent (Dana Lewis) and for whatever reason, we were the only two on the tour! What a treat. 

The mansion was completed and the family took up residence in 1794. There are some original items in the house, but the majority are pieces representative of the period. The Georgian architecture reflects the extensive wealth of Edward Hand.

You tour the first two floors and the basement. The house follows the architecture style of a central hall (front and back doors) and four rooms in each corner.

Addressing the issue of Hand’s enslaved people, the site states:

“Historic Rock Ford has partnered with the African American Historical Society of South-Central Pennsylvania to better tell the stories of these people whose lives were often undocumented.”

Don’t skip the museum—it contains the largest clock we’ve ever seen!

Rock Ford Upcoming Exhibit:

Long Rifles of the American Revolution: How Lancaster County Craftsmen Helped Win the War

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More than a House – Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum

A few years ago, Nadine and I toured Landis Valley Village. This Pennsylvania German Heritage Site is chockfull of history. It covers 100 acres, so allow two-three hours to walk it and tosee the museum exhibits. The Museum hosts many events throughout the season, from Spinning Wheel classes to a Civil War demonstration. 

Volunteers dress in period clothing and the day we were there a blacksmith was creating something. They also offer leather working, which I thought would be intriguing.

Check the site for hours—currently they’re open Thursday through Sunday.

Landis Valley Current Exhibit:

Wedding dresses from the 1800s. What do you think? More or less frilly than today’s options?

More Than a Building – Oregon Diary

Another fun thing Nadine, my kid sister, and I did one gorgeous autumn afternoon was tour Oregon Diary’s Corn Maze. (Love the World Cow!) Included in the Maze was a wagon ride through a massive field of sunflowers. I had no idea there were so many varieties! Weekends in September this year, get tickets, grab snippers, and cut a beautiful bouquet to take home. What a treat!

House Tours and More in Lancaster

There is so much to see here—in the city that was our nation’s capital for one day! It was the Capital of Pennsylvania from 1799 – 1912. (Ahem, I didn’t know that one either!) 

Lancaster was a main route on the Underground Railroad and apparently there were nine bathtubs in 1839. How do you think they tracked that one?

So if you find yourself in south-central Pennsylvania, plan on spending a few days—a week—exploring!