Thursday, March 27, 2008

Republicans Love Mansions for Political Leaders

Book Review of “Shelter for His Excellency” by LeRoy Greene

This book provides a history of where Pennsylvania Governors lived while serving their Gubernatorial terms. This book is of historic interest as it was written and published before the current Governor’s Residence was constructed. This records the history of Governors’ residences that few remember.

At times, this serves as an important footnote to key events in history. For instance, it mattered that there was once two residences. There was one for the Governor who declared Pennsylvania was actually a Swedish colony called New Sweden while another Governor settled across in a residence across the river and claimed New Netherlands for Holland. We learn important safety facts, such as never build a residence too close to a power keg. This mistake led to the destruction of the first private Governor’s residence on Tinicum Island in 1645. Dutch and British Governors later squabbled militarily and through capturing the others’ residences until Holland decided to let the British have the colony.

When William Penn received a land grant to establish Sylvania, the King insisted the land instead be called Penn’s Wood. Connecticut as well as Lord Baltimore objected and argued their claims to parts of Penn’s Wood. In 1682, the first British capital was established in Chester with the first General Assembly meeting there on December 4, 1682. This was the start of the longest continuous legislative body on Earth. Connecticut incidentally held onto its claim of most of north center Pennsylvania until 1802, when Congress decided the land belonged to Pennsylvania.

Lancaster became our Capitol in 1799 and then Harrisburg in 1812. Eventually, the legislature decided there was a need a place for the Governor to live and conduct official business, including meeting guests. A used mansion called Keystone Hall was purchased on 311-313 Second Street. In part, some legislators wished to establish a permanent residence to prevent discussions about moving the Capitol. Some Philadelphia legislators were suggesting Philadelphia should be the Capitol.

This residence provided Governors a place to relax and make observations, such as Governor Daniel Hastings’s astute declaration that “some people have to be mightily careful when they come through our park or our squirrels will get them.” It provided a place where Governor Samuel Pennypacker could return after working late hours, often as late as 6 pm, and compare former Governor Robert Pattison to a katydid declaring that Pattison “never did anything, and yet this absurd insect, year in and year out, kept repeating the same song.” It was a home where Governor Martin Brumbaugh could decide to run for President on his record and realize a few months later that not enough voters cared about his record.

While we herald the current Governor’s Residence, it is good to be reminded that past Governors lived elsewhere. This is a good history that helps us remember past residences, and the histories associated with those homes.


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