Volume LVIIIAugust 2011Number 3

Masonic Patriots Celebrate Presidents' Day

In 1880, Congress declared Feb. 22, George Washington's birthday, a federal holiday. Since then, the third Monday in February has commonly become known as Presidents' Day, honoring the lives and accomplishments of all U.S. presidents.

In addition to George Washington, 13 other presidents spanning the history of our country have also been Master Masons: James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, James Polk, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, James Garfield, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft, Warren Harding, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Gerald Ford.

Franklin County is the only location in Pennsylvania where a U.S. president was born. On Feb, 20, many area Freemasons gathered at Buchanan's Birthplace State Park in Cove Gap to honor President and Bro. James Buchanan.

James Buchanan, father of the president, purchased John Tom's Trading Post, located at Larraby's (now Cove Gap), in 1788 and renamed it Stoney Batter after the Buchanan home in North Ireland. After a wagon road was built across Cove Mountain early in the 19th century, the old trading post was no longer needed. Buchanan then moved the store to Mercersburg. President James Buchanan was born at Stoney Batter on April 23, 1791 and grew up in Mercersburg. He later graduated from Dickinson College and became a lawyer in Lancaster. On Dec. 11, 1816, James Buchanan was initiated into Freemasonry and was made a Mason in Lodge No. 43, Lancaster. He became the Master of his lodge in 1822 and was appointed District Deputy Grand Master for the counties of Lancaster, Lebanon and York.

His political career began when he was elected to serve two terms as a Pennsylvania Assemblyman and rose to serve 10 years as a U.S. Congressman, 10 years as a Senator and four years as Secretary of the State. He then ran for president and was inaugurated as the 15th U.S. President in 1857. His tenure as president was fraught with controversy surrounding the issues of states' rights and slavery. Bro. Buchanan retired from the Presidency after one term in office and returned to his home in Lancaster, named Wheatland, where he later died on June 1, 1868.

After Bro. Buchanan's death, his niece, Harriet Lane Johnston, made attempts to purchase his Stoney Batter homestead in Franklin County and build a monument for him. It was not until after her death, in 1906, that the provisions of her Will led to the purchase of this 18.5-acre parcel of land.

After an architectural firm in Baltimore designed the monument, it took the building of a small tramway to move the stone from the mountainside to the monument site and a crew of 35 men plus mules to build the pyramid, which is 38 feet square and 31 feet high. The inscription tablet, sill, seat and cap are constructed of 50 tons of hammered gray granite. The pyramid structure contains 250 tons of native stone and mortar. All the faces of the stone show the original weathered surface. The monument was completed in 1907.

In the Pennsylvania legislative session of 1911, authorization was given for the Commonwealth to accept the 18.5 acres of land and monument, and it was placed in the custody of what is known today as the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and managed as part of the Cowans Gap State Park Complex. It is now used for the public's enjoyment.

The day before Presidents' Day, DCNR Ranger Bro. James Sleighter, W.M., Orrstown Lodge No. 262, welcomed the Masons from Districts 3 and 34 who attended the Masonic wreath dedication at the James Buchanan birthplace monument. Having organized the event, he was pleased with the attendance from the community during a walking tour of the park prior to the ceremony.

During the event, State Senator Richard Alloway II commented: "Our State Park system provides a vital role in the protection of our natural resources and provides so many great recreational opportunities for family times together. The Freemasons coming together today beautifully illustrates the true beliefs and freedoms that our founding fathers held so dear - to God, country, family and fellowship. With the historical, environmental and economic significance of our state park system, along with the dedication of officers like Ranger Jim Sleighter and the employees of DCNR, it is very easy to see why the Pennsylvania Bureau of State Parks is currently holding the 'Best in the Nation' Gold Medal Award."

Masonic brothers from Districts 3 and 34 at the Buchanan Birthplace included: Samuel Cressler, Franklin County president of township supervisors for Southampton Township, Cumberland Valley Lodge No. 315, Shippensburg; Edward Belden, Trent Anderson, Bohdan Chang and Russell Smith, all of Cumberland Star Lodge No. 197, Carlisle; Franklin County Commissioner Robert Thomas, Mount Pisgah Lodge No. 443, Greencastle; Washington Township Supervisor Jeffrey Geesaman and Michael Ramsay, both of Acacia Lodge No. 586, Waynesboro; Senator Richard Alloway II, George Washington Lodge No. 143, Chambersburg; James Sleighter, Orrstown Lodge No. 262; S. Eugene Herritt, D.D.G.M. for the 3rd Masonic District; Robert Snyder II, D.D.G.M. for the 34th Masonic District; Duane Goodhart, Orrstown Lodge; Dennis McClanahan, Acacia Lodge; Brandon McEndree, George Washington Lodge; John Tritt, Orrstown Lodge; and Richard Rice and Keith Eshleman, Mount Pisgah Lodge.

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