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Mercersburg plans party for 250th birtday

February 16, 2000

Mercersburg's 250thBy RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro

photos: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




MERCERSBURG, Pa. - Although no one living knows for sure when it was founded, Mercersburg will celebrate a 250th anniversary this summer with a weeklong festival highlighted by the unveiling of a bronze statue of its favorite son, James Buchanan, the nation's 15th president.

Mercersburg celebrated its bicentennial in 1950 with a four-day event on Sept. 1-4, according to a blue cloth banner owned by Henry Kittredge, a local antiques dealer.

Kittredge said his is one of just a few of the old banners that have survived the last half century. According to historical writings, local legend and historic markers, James Black first settled in the area in the mid-1750s on land he bought from American Indians. He named his new settlement Black's Town.

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"There are some people who dispute it, but there are markers around the town that said it was settled in 1750," said Betty Stenger, head of the committee planning the 250th anniversary.

A walking tour guide of Mercersburg written by Stenger, available in the town's public library, said that Black sold the settlement to William Smith in 1759. Smith renamed it Smith's Town.

Smith's son, William Smith Jr., laid out the town in 1786 in a grid with three streets running north and south and four running east and west. He named his new town in honor of Hugh Mercer, a physician who moved to the area in the 1750s. A close friend of George Washington, Mercer became a general in the Revolutionary War. He was mortally wounded in the Battle of Princeton in January, 1777, according to a historical marker on Pa. 16 east of Mercersburg.

Buchanan made his first campaign speech in Mercersburg from the second-floor balcony of the Mansion House on the public square, according to George Nalley. Nalley and Lannie Gordon, another local resident, led the effort to raise $50,000 for the 6-foot Buchanan statue.

Statue locationThe statue, which will stand on an 18-inch-high granite pedestal, will be unveiled on a grassy knoll near the public square June 17. The setting will include granite park benches, landscaping and a flag pole, Nalley said. The unveiling will serve as the start of the anniversary celebration.

The anniversary theme will be "A very Special Heritage."

Events will include a church service, mayor's luncheon attended by local, county and state officials, an essay contest in the local middle and high schools with winners switching roles with officials, historical lectures and symposiums, a pageant depicting Mercersburg life from 1750 to 2000, a street fair and a birthday party in the public square.

Mercersburg has other claims to fame besides Buchanan. It was touched by the Revolutionary and Civil wars, is considered the site of the America's first free black community and saw 44 local black men join the Union Army's 54th and 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry regiments with 19 falling in battle. A local cemetery holds the remains of 38 black Civil War veterans.

The town was also the home of Jane Harrison, wife of President William Henry Harrison, and her sister, Elizabeth Harrison, mother of President Benjamin Harrison.

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