Columbia, Pennsylvania

trolley car

Today, Columbia, Pa. is a town of about 11,000 in western Lancaster County. Since the early 1700's, it served as the "Gateway To The West" as the ferry here was the only way to cross the mile-wide Susquehanna River. The photo above was from the first half of the 20th century when trolley cars were the mode of transportation.

Columbia's Role in History Part I-- 1788

The Continental Congress had been moving from place to place to avoid British capture. Wright's Ferry is where the Congress stayed before crossing the river to York. In York, the Articles of Confederation were signed, and the nation "The United States" was born. When Congress was looking for a permanent location for the new nation's capital, Wright's Ferry was one of the locations on the short list. In order to enhance their chances, the citizens of Wright's Ferry decided to rename the town to a more patriotic name-- "Columbia". As I was told once, Thomas Jefferson was in favor of Columbia, but his bitter enemy Alexander Hamilton was in favor of a location along the Potomac. George Washington broke a tie in the vote count by voting with Hamilton. The location was named after George Washington (who became President the following year), and the area was called "District of Columbia".

Columbia's Role in History Part II-- 1863

Front St

In the early 1860s, slaves were being transported from the southern United States to free states in the north, as well as Canada. A term called the "Underground Railroad" was used for the system of homes, farms and locations where the slaves were sent to on their way to freedom. It was written that Columbia,Pa is where the term "Underground Railroad" came into being when southern slave owners could only track their slaves as far north as Columbia. Slaves disappeared at Columbia.

On June 28,1863, the country was in the heat of battle in the Civil War. The Confederate army had advanced, capturing York. They were heading east with plans to capture Harrisburg, Lancaster and Philadelphia. When they reached Wrightsville (located just across the river from Columbia), the covered bridge across the river was set on fire by 4 Columbia residents (one was a black man). The Confederate army assisted the citizens of Wrightsville in preventing the destruction of the town by the large fire just off their shore. Wrightsville,PA is as far north as the Confederate army advanced to. As they retreated back to the west, they met the Union army in the small town of Gettysburg (40 miles west to the west of Columbia) a few days later. The rest is history.

The photo above shows the Baltimore & Susquehanna RR Station in Columbia. It was there in late June, 1863 when thousands of refugees were leaving York County, just ahead of the Confederate Army. The building is visible in the painting depicting the burning of the bridge. The only building in the photo that remains standing today is the old PRR Station. Since that building was built in the 1880s, it's suspected the photo was taken late 1800s to early 1900s. The photo was provided by Ed King of the Columbia Historic Preservation Society.