Masonic Patriots Celebrate Presidents Day
Until 1971, both February 12 and February 22 were observed as federal holidays to honor the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 12) and George Washington (Feb. 22). In 1971, President Richard Nixon proclaimed one single federal holiday, President’s Day, honoring all past presidents of the United States of America.
While many Freemasons know about the Masonic affiliation of George Washington, 13 other presidents have also been Masons. These 14 Masonic presidents span the history of the United States and include George Washington, 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. February and Presidents Day offers the opportunity for Masons to recognize the contributions of these brothers to their country. On Sunday, February 20, 2011, many area Freemasons recognized that Franklin County was privileged to have the only location in Pennsylvania where a U.S. president was born. These Masons, who are interested in government, gathered at Buchanan’s Birthplace State Park in Cove Gap to honor President James Buchanan, who was also a Brother Master Mason.
The John Tom’s Trading Post located at Larraby’s ( now Cove Gap) marked the end of the wagon road and the beginning of a horse trail to Fort Pitt. James Buchanan, father of the president, purchased the post 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 learned law and graduated from Dickinson College and later became a lawyer in Lancaster. He was a gifted debater and was very formal. On December 11, 1816 James Buchanan was initiated into Freemasonry and was made a Mason in Lodge #43, in Lancaster Pa. 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 PA assemblyman and rose to serve 10 years as a U.S. Congressman and 10 years as a senator and four years as secretary of the State. He then ran for sresident 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. 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 Buchanan’s death, Harriet Lane Johnston, Buchanan’s niece, made attempts to purchase her uncle’s Stoney Batter homestead and build a monument for her uncle, who she highly respected. But it was not until after her death that the provisions of her will led to the purchase of this 18.5 acre parcel of land. It was purchased from the Shannon heirs in 1906, and the monument was completed in 1907.
Initially, a large boulder was to be placed at Stoney Batter for the monument. Why that did not happen is not really known, but perhaps the difficulty in moving such a large stone made it impractical. Even 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 crew of 35 men plus mules to build the pyramid we now see. It 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 will also read that the grounds were for the enjoyment of the people of Pennsylvania. In the legislative session of 1911, authorization was given for the commonwealth to accept the 18.5 acres of land and monument, placed in the custody of what is known today as the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and managed as part of the Cowans Gap State Park complex.
The Masons that attended the recent wreath dedication to monument were welcomed by DCNR ranger James Sleighter. Sleighter, who is currently the master of Orrstown Lodge # 262. The ceremony was attended by patriotic Masons from Franklin, Fulton and Cumberland counties who are within the 3rd and 34th PA Masonic districts under the leadership of district deputy grand masters S. Eugene Herritt and Robert C. Snyder II. State and local governmental officials were also in attendance, including 33rd District State Sen. Richard Alloway II, Franklin County Commissioner Robert Thomas, Franklin County President of Township Supervisors Sam Cressler, and Washington Township Supervisor Jeffrey Geesaman.