Columbia, Pennsylvania, (population 10,046) traces its roots to 1726, when Quaker John Wright built a log house on the Susquehanna River. Wright established a ferry at this natural crossing in 1730. Originally known as Wright’s Ferry, the town was formally laid out in 1788.
Citizens renamed their community Columbia in hopes that Congress would make the town the nation’s capital, but the 1790 proposal fell one vote short. In 1814 Columbia became an incorporated borough.
Settlers were English, Scottish, Irish, African-American, and German. Columbia became an important transportation hub with roads, canals, and railroads radiating outward. Escaping slaves seeking freedom passed through the town on their way to states farther north and Canada.
During the Civil War, retiring Union forces burned Columbia’s mile-long covered bridge, halting advancing Confederates on the western shore at Wrightsville.
By 1900 the town had more than 12,000 residents. Industries produced such diverse products as silk goods, lace, pipe, laundry machinery, stoves, iron toys, flour, lumber, and wagons. Today Columbia residents work in industries and shops in town and in nearby communities.
Columbia’s historic Market House was built in 1869 and is used today as a farmers’ market. The National Watch and Clock Museum is located in Columbia, as is Wright’s Ferry Mansion, built in 1738, which houses a collection of early 18th century Philadelphia furniture and accessories. Columbia’s First National Bank Museum, built in 1814, preserves many historical details, including tellers’ cages, the president’s office, and some unique early currency.
Columbia and five other nearby boroughs have collaborated to form the Pennsylvania Civil War Trails Program, a system of signage that tells some lesser-known stories of the war. Columbia is located within the Lancaster-York Heritage Region, which promotes local historic tours and events in the area.
Each year, the Columbia Historic Lantern Tour presents a living history walk through downtown Columbia, with costumed guides who tell stories of the town’s past. A trolley takes guests to Mount Bethel Cemetery, where actors portray notable Columbians from the past.
Designated a Preserve America Community in August 2008.