Pa. man lobbies state to fix up Buchanan monument area

March 24, 2001

Pa. man lobbies state to fix up Buchanan monument area

By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - George Nalley's at it again.

The retired Mercersburg resident, lover of local history and champion of James Buchanan, the nation's 15th president and the only president from Pennsylvania, is lobbying the state to take better care of a park near Mercersburg where Buchanan was born in a log cabin in 1791.

Last year Nalley and Lannie Gordon, a Mercersburg barber, raised more than $25,000 to have a bronze statue of Buchanan sculptured and placed in a small park near the town's public square.

Nalley also spent $1,200 for a letter Buchanan wrote in 1848 before he was president to an acquaintance who was seeking a government job. Nalley donated the letter to the local library.


Now Nalley has his eye on Buchanan State Park, 18 acres of woodland, picnic areas, walking trails and a babbling stream known as Buck Run three miles west of Mercersburg.

The place is still known locally as Stony Batter. Buchanan's father ran a store there, according to local history.

Buchanan died in Lancaster, Pa., in 1868.

Nalley said Buchanan's niece, Harriet Lane of Mercersburg, who served as his first lady in the White House (Buchanan was a bachelor), donated $100,000 to buy the land for the park and have a large stone pyramid built to mark the site where the Buchanan cabin stood.

Some of the money also went to pay for a statue of Buchanan in Washington, D.C., Nalley said.

The Buchanan cabin was moved to Chambersburg, Pa., in 1925. In 1953 it was returned to Mercersburg, restored and set on the grounds of Mercersburg Academy.

Nalley said the park is in poor condition, trees are down, picnic tables have been destroyed and a wrought iron fence that surrounds the pyramid is broken in many places.

"It isn't a fit place to remember a past president," Nalley said.

He has written to area delegates to the State Legislature and to state officials about the condition of the park.

Nalley wants a flagpole installed in the park. He wants the park cleaned of debris and fallen trees and he wants a gate to lock off the park at night.

Steve Behe, manager of Cowans Gap State park on the Franklin/Fulton county line, also manages Buchanan State Park. He said much of the damage Nalley complains about stemmed from a micro-burst, a narrow band of tornado-like weather that swept down the mountain last June. The pyramid was in its path and trees fell onto the wrought iron fence.

Also, Behe said, a man angered over a fight with his girlfriend while both were in the park tore around in his pickup and destroyed picnic tables, part of a restroom and other park facilities. He was arrested by state police and park rangers, Behe said.

Behe said the storm left "a tangled mess."

"The Bureau of Forestry came in, cut up the downed trees and sold the logs at a profit," he said.

Park employees cleaned up some of the mess left by the storm. The state has hired a blacksmith to make an exact reproduction of the iron fence.

"The old fence has been there for about 90 years. It was beautiful, but it was shot," Behe said.

Behe said some of the Norway spruce trees destroyed in the storm will also be replaced, but the road leading into the park is a state highway.

He doubts PennDot would allow a barrier to close the road at night.

A sign in front of the park lists the hours as 8 a.m. to sundown.

"Park rangers and state police make unannounced patrols there," Behe said.

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