The walls and grounds of our stately Victorian Inn abound with history and legend. If only the walls could talk!
Legend goes that the original home on the front part of our foundation was built by Robert and Ann Coleman as a graduation gift to their daughter, Anne Caroline, and bestowed upon her graduation from Dickinson College. The Coleman family, as early colonists, had nine sons and five daughters and were a turn of the century example in the 1800s of the "American Dream". Through hard work, a good sense of business, and a quick mind, they became one of the wealthiest families in our nation.
Upon Anne's graduation and return to Lebanon, she set up a law practice where the current Lebanon Historical Society is located and brought to town a suitor, one James Buchanan. Unfortunately for Anne, her father, a Trustee at Dickinson College, was familiar with Jim, having once expelled him for disciplinary reasons and later readmitting him to graduate. James Buchanan born at Stony Batter near Mercersburg, PA, was the son of a family with no established roots or status in the young country, having just immigrated from Northern Ireland. He was not an acceptable suitor for the Coleman family, during a time when most prominent weddings were prearranged. Those were the days of proper social lineage. James set up joint practices in both Lebanon and Lancaster and was a frequent visitor to the home. He was an Assistant Prosecutor for Lebanon County, and in 1813 became the first member of the Lebanon County Bar Association.
As their love and relationship grew they became engaged, outraging the Coleman family, resulting in a confrontation where Anne's father broke off the engagement. Months later, on December 9, 1819, Anne met a tragic death while visiting her sister and uncle in Philadelphia. She committed suicide with an overdose of laudanum.
As the legend and folklore go, our Inn is haunted, or as we prefer to say, graced with the friendly spirit of Anne Coleman. Her presence is observed by guests who notice extinguishing candles, opening doors, closing and opening of windows, and rearranging beds, particularly the pillows. We amuse ourselves with her antics, and enjoy her as our guest and overseer!
Of course, little did the Coleman family know this same James Buchanan, whose portrait is in our parlor and who was accused of loving and courting the Coleman family fortunes and not Anne, is the same James Buchanan who, after her death, became preoccupied with political affairs. He avowed to forever remain a bachelor.
Buchanan became a Congressman from PA in 1821, was appointed Minister to Russia in 1832, became a Senator for PA in 1834, was Secretary of State under President Polk in 1845, and was the Envoy and Minister to Great Britain in 1853. This was the same James Buchanan who, on November 4, 1856, was elected president of our country during a period of turmoil; including the Dred Scott Decision, the Panic of 1857, the Compromise on Slavery, the admission of Kansas to the Union, and John Brown's Raid on Harper's Ferry. Buchanan, being the only president from the state of PA, was also our country's only bachelor president because of his love, Anne.
Ah, did he ever prove the Coleman family wrong, and could the destiny and history of our great nation have been different, if not for the events and relationships that occurred in our Inn. James Buchanan was defeated by Lincoln in 1860, and saw South Carolina secede from the Union, and the Confederacy established before Lincoln's inauguration in March of 1861. James Buchanan then retired to Wheatland, a national historical sight in Lancaster County, where if you visit, you will see a prominent portrait of Anne Coleman displayed above the fireplace mantel in his bedroom.
Dying on June 1, 1868, Buchanan never abandoned the memory or his love for Anne, ordering their personal letters and momentos destroyed upon his death.
The original home remained in the Coleman family and was subsequently replaced by the current home as you see it today in 1880. It was constructed as a grand home for the superintendent of the Lebanon Coke and Iron Ore Concentrator plant. Occupying the lands to the north of the Inn, the Concentrator upgraded the ore from the Cornwall Mines, then the world's largest open pit mine, and supplied ore for the cannons of the Revolutionary Army.
Incidentally, notice the church across the street. When the Coleman family built a mansion for the superintendents of their various business interests, they also always built a Chapel for their workers to worship in. At the turn of the 1900s, Bethlehem Steel and its subsidiaries purchased American Steel, Pennsylvania Steel, and the North Lebanon Furnace Co., operator of the Concentrator plant.
In 1912 Alphonse and Margaret Walter came to town from Minnesota. Al Walter was appointed Superintendent of the Concentrator plant. They received and later purchased the home as their residence.
The Walter's raised two sons in the home, Andrew and Norman, whom we were fortunate to have as our guests and historian. With Bethlehem Steel's acquisition of the Cornwall and Rexmont Ore Banks Company, Mr. Walter later became the head engineer for the Cornwall Mines and their conversion from open pit mining to tunnel mining, which operated until the Agnes Flood in 1972.
He was responsible for the recovery of valuable gold, silver and cobalt from the mines, whose value more than paid for Bethlehem Steel's entire world wide operations, making their production of steel 100% profit as they proposed from the turn of the century through the 1950s.
Mrs. Walter was active in the Lebanon community, the Ladies Auxiliary of the Good Samaritan Hospital, and the Women's Club. Traveling extensively and fond of ivory, silk and the orient, Mrs. Walter entertained in the home extensively and was known for extravagant garden and card parties.
The estate of eight acres was graced with formal gardens and terraces. Margaret, as an accomplished artist, is remembered for her paintings and studio on the third floor of the Inn, which also served as quarters for married couples who served as her staff, butler, & maid. The parlor contained back to back rectangular grand pianos so that there was always music upon a guests arrival. The remains of one, which was given to the Walter's as a wedding gift, graces our Regency Suite as a desk. Our Miller Organ, currently in the parlor, was delivered November 30, 1900, and manufactured at 8th & Maple Streets in the City of Lebanon and since has been electrified.
Mr. Walter passed away in 1962. Mrs. Walter remained living in the home until 1985 until she became a guest at Cornwall Manor. She passed away in a West Virginia retirement home in 1995 at the wonderful age of 104. Upon moving to the retirement home, Mervin Ebersole purchased the property from Mrs. Walter and extended his car dealership substantially, selling the eastern part of the estate to Monro Muffler and the homestead to a group of women who restored, upgraded and converted the property into a Coldwell Banker Real Estate office for a period of time. Without their attention to detail and renovations we would not be here, and the home might have been lost in time.
After its demise and vacancy for a three year period, my wife and I purchased the home in the spring of 1995, renovating it into the Inn. Walk the gardens, linger on the porches and patios, play in the game room, enjoy life, and return often. And please...say "Hello" to Anne!
- Scott and Crystal Aungst, Innkeepers