A prominent addition to the Lancaster Historical Society’s Library and Museum, combined with a comprehensive site master plan and renovation of existing spaces, have revitalized this campus of history, which also includes Wheatland – the 1828 home of Pennsylvania’s only U.S. President, James L. Buchanan. The client reports that attendance has doubled following the project’s completion last year.
The foremost change to this newly combined heritage destination, now called Lancaster History.org, is the 17,000-square-foot addition that houses a 250-seat multi-use lecture hall, enhanced retail space and lobby, an expanded exhibit gallery, improved curatorial and archival labs, and new offices. The design presents a contemporary face to visitors at a new entry point that serves both historic entities on this shared 10-acre site. The project also entailed renovation of the 16,000-square-foot existing building, which was built in 1955.
The three curved, saw-tooth roofs of the addition, each with north-facing glass façades, recall the region’s historic factories, while crisp contours, glassy expanses, and restrained ornamentation differentiate it from its historic neighbor. Zinc-accented brick walls lead to curving glass at a welcoming entrance to the Society’s Library and Museum. Slated for LEED Gold, the addition features an open-loop geothermal well system for heating and cooling, passive solar heating, copious natural light, and porous pavement outdoors to protect the nearby Conestoga River from excess storm water.
The challenge of the master planning effort was to make a coherent experience for visitors to the campus, which also features an arboretum at its heart. The Lancaster Historical Society and the Wheatland parcels had been separately carved from Buchanan’s estate more than a century ago. The organizations had grown independently with distinct charges: the Society maintained a library, research archives, and education programs that cover all of Lancaster County’s history; while Wheatland’s charge was to preserve the house, focusing strictly on Buchanan and his era. Their new unity has enhanced both missions and increased visitation to each.
The two properties host a mix of visitors, such as history buffs, scholars, schools, tourists, bus tours, and neighborhood walkers. Because Lancaster was a key starting point for western migration (nearby Conestoga was home to the makers of the “Prairie Schooner”), descendants from all over America visit to trace family histories in the Museum archives – which were featured in an episode of The Learning Channel program “Who Do You Think You Are?” As the home of the fifteenth U.S. President, Wheatland is a national treasure.
Robin Sarratt, the Society’s Vice President, reported in a recent blog post that the now pedestrian-friendly campus has improved the visitor experience and the merged nonprofit’s revenues: “I’ve seen the impact the new Campus of History project has had on our bottom line – our visitation has more than doubled this year  and our retail sales have skyrocketed. What has become evident to me again today, as I have greeted more than 60 guests so far, is just how normal it is for us to have scores of visitors come to the Lancaster Campus of History and find everything they were hoping to find, and more. And it is clear that the new normal includes having many of them walk through the door, look up and around at our beautiful new building, and say “Wow.” I guess I shouldn’t be surprised; it’s how I feel every time I come to work.”