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Mercersburg to celebrate its 250th anniversary

June 10, 2000|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - James Buchanan returns to his hometown Saturday in life-size bronze to stand in posterity near the town's public square.

The statue of Buchanan, who was born in Mercersburg on April 23, 1791 and became the nation's 15th president, was made by Pittsburgh sculptor Aaron Connley.

The idea for the statue came from Mercersburg barber Lannie Gordon and George Nalley, a local retiree. They worked for more than a year raising the money to pay for the statue and a place to put it. It will stand on a pedestal in a small park near the Public Square.

It is landscaped, has benches, lights and a flag pole.

The statue, which will remain under a shroud until its official unveiling at 1 p.m. Saturday, cost $25,000.

The granite base the statue sits on and two granite park benches were donated by Gilland Memorials of Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., Nalley said.

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Michael Fisher, Pennsylvania's attorney general, will speak at the dedication.

The ceremony will also kick off Mercersburg's 250th anniversary celebration - a week's worth of events that will include a parade, concerts, church services, a pageant about the town's history, high school reunions, luncheons and dinners, an artisans' fair, a benefit auction, meals, a free showing in the Star Theater of the Hollywood movie "Allegheny Uprising," based on an incident in the Mercersburg area during the French and Indian War, and a historic house tour.

The 10-member committee planning the anniversary is headed by Betty Stenger, a member of the town's historical society.

"This is a very historic town and it's important to mark its history," Stenger said. There was a 200th anniversary in 1950 and the 225th was celebrated in 1975, she said.

According to a brochure on local history, the first rumblings of the town on Pa. 16, 10 miles west of Greencastle, Pa., began in the mid-1700s when James Black established a trading center, mill and tannery on what was then the fringe of the American frontier.

Legend has it that Black bought the land from the Indians for a gun and string of beads, the going price for real estate back then.

William Smith bought Black's holdings in 1759 and named it Smith's Town after himself. His son eventually acquired the property and laid out the town in 1786.

Smith named the town after Hugh Mercer, a resident who went on to become Gen. George Washington's surgeon and an officer in the Revolutionary War. Mercer was killed in the Battle of Trenton in January 1777.

Mercersburg's history continued into the 19th century with the founding of Marshall College in 1836. It eventually merged with Franklin College in Lancaster, Pa., to become Franklin and Marshall College. Gordon said there is a statue of Buchanan at the college.

One of America's first free black communities was established when some former slaves became property owners in the first quarter of the 19th century on Fayette Street. Descendants of the original owners still live there.

During the Civil War, more than 40 black men volunteered with the Union Army. Many ended up in the 54th Massachusetts, the unit made famous in the movie "Glory." Zion Cemetery in Mercersburg holds the remains of 38 of those veterans.

Mercersburg has other presidential claims to fame besides Buchanan.

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

For more information on the celebration and its events, call 1-717-328-2426.

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