A former first lady slept in this Mercersburg home. Now you can, too

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Sahand Miraminy has been painstakingly restoring the historic Harriet Lane Mansion in downtown Mercersburg, Pa., to its former glory, in anticipation of welcoming its first guests to the Inn at Historic Lane House soon.

It’s been a labor of love for the Washington, D.C., native, who has done much of the work himself.

Miraminy says he’s always had an interest in history and spent most of his professional life involved with historic house museums.

“I always knew that I wanted to live in an old house one day, and fix one up,” he says.

Vaun Hawbaker, a local craftsman specializing in historic buildings, works on the façade of Lane House.
Vaun Hawbaker, a local craftsman specializing in historic buildings, works on the façade of Lane House.

But it was a late night of scrolling through what Miraminy called “fantasy houses” on Zillow, a real estate website, at four in the morning that drew him to the Lane House.

“I expanded my search slightly and went into Pennsylvania, and I saw this house and it was immediate kismet,” he remembers.

By 10 a.m. the next morning, Miraminy was in Mercersburg to scope out the property.

“I just fell in love with the house, and I immediately recognized Harriet Lane’s name because I had fixed up a house that she and James Buchanan had used during the summer months in D.C., to use as an event space,” says Miraminy, who works remotely as an event planner.

“It was like all the stars had aligned. I already knew who she was. I already admired her, and this house popped up.”

Lane, niece of President James Buchanan, was born in the house. She served as mistress of the White House for her bachelor uncle during his presidency, just before the Civil War.

Owner Sahand Miraminy in the unrestored third level ballroom of the Lane House
Owner Sahand Miraminy in the unrestored third level ballroom of the Lane House

Calling upon his experience in restoring historic homes and working for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and his college degree in anthropology and archaeology, Miraminy rolled up his sleeves and started to restore the home to its 1828 appearance.

“I do most of the work myself, but a good portion is also done by hired craftsmen in the area," he says.

Grandest house in the region

At the time of its construction, it was described as the grandest house in the region, Miraminy says.

“It was built at a time when this area was really the frontier, so most of the homes around it were log cabins. So, it sort of loomed over the town; and the Lane family, who married into the Buchanan family, controlled a lot of the trade, real estate and commerce in the area,” Miraminy says.

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The house consists of the main block for the family, a servant’s wing that comes off the house like an L-shape, and several outbuildings.

There are six gracious bedrooms, each with a fireplace and bathroom.

“I’m going to be renting five of the rooms, so the house will have an occupancy of 10 guests a night,” Miraminy says.

Original floors and woodwork

Miraminy is one of only a handful of owners of the Lane House. One of the families, the Weidliches, lived in the home for about 100 years.

Luckily no one has made significant alterations to the house, so all the original woodwork and floors survived, he says.

Nearly everything is original to the historic home, except a room on the first floor that served a variety of functions — including a dry goods store, a hardware store and an appliance store in the early 1960s — which has since been restored.

The east portion of Lane House's double drawing room.
The east portion of Lane House's double drawing room.

Right now, Miraminy plans to operate the inn by himself.

“I’m going to be running it and cleaning it and marketing it all by myself," he says. "I’m known in my friends’ group as a pretty good cook, so I’ll serve a full, proper breakfast to the inn’s guests.”

“I want to create an environment where people come together from all walks of life, have breakfast together and meet other people who are staying here — kind of this family house feeling to it,” he says. “In my head, I think of it as almost like Thanksgiving — politics is off the table, there are certain topics that are off limits in the house because I want everyone to have a really great time and enjoy themselves.”

The first modern first lady made her mark

“Both of Harriet’s parents died in the Lane Mansion, along with several of her siblings. She was essentially orphaned, and she asked her uncle James Buchanan to adopt her, and when he became ambassador to Great Britain, she joined him in England and that’s where she became friends with Queen Victoria and became an official consort,” Miraminy says.

When James Buchanan became the 15th president of the United States, Lane served alongside him as first lady.

Harriet Lane, niece of President James Buchanan, poses in her 1857 inaugural gown.
Harriet Lane, niece of President James Buchanan, poses in her 1857 inaugural gown.

“In her 20s, she was the youngest first lady. She was kind of the Jackie O of her time — wearing low necklines and starting musical performances and diplomatic dinners at the White House. She even created the White House Conservatory,” Miraminy says.

People don’t really talk about her anymore, but at one point, she was the most famous woman in the country, says Miraminy.

“They were naming songs, battleships, and perfumes after her, and there was a whole generation of girls named Harriet Lane in the 1800s," he notes. "It’s weird how someone could be so popular, and time fades all that away.

“But it’s fun because I collect anything that has to do with Harriet Lane. Recently, I got a Harriet Lane cigar box and postcards. It’s fun to see all the history come back to the house and come back to life.”\

“My favorite part of all of this is the research and tracking down original furniture and bringing it back to the house and hanging up portraits of people that haven’t been hung up for 200 years,” says Miraminy.

He wants guests at the Inn to enjoy a unique experience — almost as if they're staying at a museum.

The Lane House dining room.
The Lane House dining room.

“The stuff that’s being put in here is very particular, and I’ve searched far and wide at auctions to track down the stuff. It’s not just an old house; there’s so much history recorded on it and even Harriet Lane visited this place as an old woman — she made pilgrimages here, so it was certainly important to her,” Miraminy says.

Tuscarora Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Chris Ardinger says he can’t wait to see the economic, tourism and quality of life benefits The Inn at the Historic Lane House will bring to Franklin County.

“This beautiful piece of history is a huge asset to our community, and once restorations are completed, the world is the limit,” Ardinger says. "In a historic town like Mercersburg, history preservation and business growth can sometimes conflict, in this case, Sahand and his team will bring all of that together."

The courtyard at Lane House features a heated swimming pool.
The courtyard at Lane House features a heated swimming pool.

Miraminy says it’s a privilege to live in Mercersburg, a town enmeshed in history.

“My hope is that as I fix up this house, it inspires other people to do it," he says. "And folks have been really welcoming and excited that the house is getting the love that it deserves.”

Miraminy is currently taking bookings upon request. Message him at info@lanehouseinn.com.

This article originally appeared in the winter edition of At Home Places, a Herald-Mail Media publication.

This article originally appeared on The Herald-Mail: Mercersburg's Harriet Lane House updated for bed and breakfast