Buchanan had been a successful lawyer who had served in Congress, had been Minister to Russia for Andrew Jackson, and Minister to Great Britain for Franklin Pierce. He was secretary-of-state for James Polk and negotiated the acquisition of the American West. With all that experience, his greatest task, the prevention of an imminent war between the states was left incomplete--he had said he would serve but one term and he was true to his word.
The visit here is by tour. It is an excellent house that's, for the most part, true to its period. It is not grand as much as it is livable (except perhaps for the sight of the brick outhouse between the visitor reception (the former stables) and the house proper). The traveler enters through the back door which leads into the main hall which culminates in the main entrance. The remarkable thing here is that over half the furniture is original to Buchanan’s tenancy. Again, it’s not ostentatious, it is the home of a successful man of the time. Buchanan ran his campaign for the presidency out of the house, writing letters to men who were influential enough in their own constituencies to be able to sway the vote. During the campaign period, there were literally hundreds of visitors. As a consequence, the most interesting room is probably the library where Buchanan entertained the political figures of his day. The other major rooms are full of mementos of Buchanan’s time here and are what one would expect, not large, but gracious. This is a full tour of two floors, not much is out of bounds.
Buchanan is still the only bachelor president. His hostess was Harriet Lane, the orphaned niece who had come to live with him in 1842. The house contains her bedroom as it was when she lived there. Buchanan died in the house, either in his own room or in the airy and isolated housekeeper’s suite (which most of us agreed was one of the more comfortable and cheery rooms in the house). The house had other tenants after Buchanan’s death in 1868; fortunately, people moved, not necessarily furniture. A number of pieces, including an entire china service, have been returned to the house so it appears as a satisfactory whole. Worth visiting.
Riverview, New Brunswick
October 3, 2003
From journal Amish Country: Faster Than a Speeding Buggy