At once inspired by the Conestoga wagons that set off from here, and the saw-tooth roofs of local manufacturing heritage, this project unites two legacy organizations within an arboretum. Its curved-beamed roofs and studio style windows uplift galleries, offices, a lecture hall, shop, and a dramatic lobby.

Wheatland, the 1828 Pennsylvania home of President James L. Buchanan, and the Lancaster Historical Society were taking a big step: joining forces on a site they shared with the Tanger Arboretum. They asked Centerbrook to develop and implement a Master Plan, and the result is a united and expanded Campus of History that opened in January 2013.

The Historical Society and the Wheatland parcels had been separately carved from Buchanan’s estate over a century ago. The organizations had grown independently with distinct charges: the Historical Society maintained a library, research archives, and education programs that cover all of Lancaster County’s history; while Wheatland’s mission was to preserve the house, focusing strictly on Buchanan and his era. Their new unity will enhance both missions.

The foremost change to this heritage destination, now called Lancaster History.org, is the 20,000-square-foot addition to the Historical Society Library that accommodates its growing use. The addition houses a 250-seat, multi-use lecture hall, enhanced retail space and lobby, an expanded gallery, improved curatorial and archival labs, and new offices.

A new entry to the campus, now around the corner from Wheatland’s historic driveway, gives each element its own street front, with parking now at the property’s edge to unite its arboretum setting. The modern design of the addition presents a contemporary face to this new entry. Three curved saw-tooth roofs, each with north-facing glass façades, recall the region’s historic factories while differentiating the contemporary building from its historical neighbors. Zinc-accented brick walls lead to curving glass at a welcoming entrance.

Certified LEED Silver (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), the addition features an open-loop geothermal well system for heating and cooling, copious natural day-lighting, and porous pavement outdoors to protect the nearby Conestoga River from excess stormwater.

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 archives. As the home of the state’s only president, Wheatland is a Pennsylvania treasure.

Photography © Peter Aaron/Esto