Maybe you already know James Buchanan was the only life-long bachelor to become president of the United States.
But did you ever hear the story of his broken heart?
If you visit Wheatland — his historic home in Lancaster County — you’ll hear how Buchanan fell in love with a young woman and fellow attorney named Ann Coleman, whose wealthy family objected strongly to the idea of their marriage. After her sudden death in 1819, which may have been suicide, Buchanan vowed never to marry. And he kept that promise.
That’s just one of the intriguing tales you’re likely to hear if you take a guided tour of one of the many historic dwellings that are open to visitors in Pennsylvania.
Which members of the Swetland family might have raced their horses along what is now bustling Wyoming Avenue?
How did the wealthy Packer family try to prevent its servants from fraternizing?
How did Gifford Pinchot’s guests pass the peas or the salad when they were dining outside?
You can find the answers if you tour, respectively, the Swetland Homestead in Wyoming, the Asa Packer Mansion in Jim Thorpe and Grey Towers in Milford.
While you’re there, of course, you’ll also see lots of historic decor and furnishings that show you the way people once baked their bread, boiled their water, took care of their clothes, worked and socialized.
Here’s a list of 10 places you might want to check out on your travels:
• Asa Packer Mansion, Packer Hill Road, Jim Thorpe. Overlooking the Old Mauch Chunk National Historic District, this is the 1860s home of Asa Packer, a coal and railroad baron who founded Lehigh University. Look for the old player piano and learn about this home’s early “air-conditioning.” The mansion is open daily from 11 a.m. Last tour begins at 4 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults; $5 for students. Tour is not recommended for children. 570-325-3229.
• Swetland Homestead, 885 Wyoming Ave., Wyoming. Home to one of the earliest families to settle in the Wyoming Valley. You’ll want to linger in the early kitchen to see the massive fireplace, then admire the Victorian parlor that was part of a later addition. Walking tours from 1 to 4 p.m. today and Aug. 18, Sept. 8 and Sept. 22. $4 for adults; $2 for children. 570- 822-1727.
• Forty Fort Meeting House, 20 River St. Forty Fort. Not a home per se, this 1807 historic edifice was a house of worship. You can see its original box pews and elevated pulpit from 1 to 3 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 29 and on Sept. 2. Admission $2, $1. 570-287-5214
• Grey Towers, 151 Grey Towers, Milford. The gracious home of Governor Gifford Pinchot is open for daily tours 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Oct. 31. Today is the final day of a weekend Wood Festival on the grounds. On Aug. 11., in honor of Pinchot’s birthday, the admission fee will be waived and ice cream will be served. You are welcome to bring a non-perishable food item for the needy in lieu of the standard admission fee, which is usually $8 for adults, $5 for students and free for smaller children. 570-296-9630.
• Jackson Mansion, 344 N. Market St., Berwick. The one-time home of Clarence G. Jackson, a Civil War veteran whose family had made a fortune through manufacturing railroad equipment. On Dec. 6 and 7 it will be festively decorated and open for Christmas tours. 570-759-8020.
• Joseph Priestley House, 472 Priestley Ave., Northumberland. Perhaps best known for his discovery, in England, of oxygen, Priestley was a scientist who identified carbon monoxide and whose work led to an understanding of photosynthesis. He was a “dissenting clergyman” whose enemies burned his home in England in 1791, but the home where he lived in Pennsylvania still stands. It is open for tours 1 to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Nov. 30. Admission is $6 and $4. Today at 1:30 and 3 p.m. there will be presentations about Priestley’s discovery of oxygen.
• Millionaire’s Row, West Fourth Street, Williamsport. At cityofwilliamsport.org you can download a map for a walking tour of Millionaire’s Row and follow it through the area where families that had made their fortunes in the lumber business once lived. The brochure will show you where to look for stained-glass windows, slate roofs and various styles of architecture as you view the structures from the street.
• Wheatland, 1120 Marietta Ave., Lancaster. This is the home of James Buchanan, who ran his successful presidential campaign from the sitting room here. Tours available from noon to 4 p.m., with the last tour leaving at 3, Mondays through Saturdays until Oct. 31. Admission is $10, $8, $6. 717-393-4633.
• Amish Farm and House, 2395 Lincoln Highway East, Lancaster. You can see how the Amish tradtionally lived and worked by touring this 1805 farmhouse with its nearby blacksmith shop and one-room schoolhouse. It’s open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. through August, with shorter hours in the fall. Admission is $8.95, $7.95 and $5.95. 717-394-6185.
• Frederick Stegmaier Mansion, 304 S. Franklin St., Wilkes-Barre. Constructed in 1870, this mansion was home to a family whose name is synonymous with the brewing industry. It boasts antique furnishings, intricate woodwork and a beautiful staircase and operates as a bed-and-breakfast and event venue. Group tours can be arranged by calling 570-823-9372.