Tuesday, February 23, 2016

On the Road to Columbia, Pa

About a week and a half ago, I had the bright idea to escape the ordinary and hit the road. I decided on a "do-able day trip," with Columbia, Pa as my destination. I've visited Columbia in the past, but later learned of places I missed the first time around. (Thank you Facebook friends at "What's Happening in Columbia, Pa.)

My husband decided we would take the scenic route to our destination. Although the temperature outside was a bone-chilling 10 degrees and the wind was whipping worse than the hair on a Beverly Hills housewife, I figured with my long warm coat, gloves, a scarf and boots, I'd be ready for whatever Mother Nature hurled at me. Plus, an acute case of cabin fever had raised my temperature a few degrees anyway.

What I didn't anticipate was the last 45-minutes of the trip would consist of me yelling "slow down," praying and generally being an annoying front-seat driver and it didn't help that my husband is an expert at pushing my buttons sometimes. "This is FUN," is the one phrase that sends me right over the edge when he takes winding roads too fast and no, I'm really not as ancient as that sounds...

(For those who are unaware, Central PA was hit with an epic snowstorm not long ago. Thirty inches of snow takes a long time to melt, especially in February.)

The "scenic side roads" were covered in a blanket of the white stuff, with constant drifting from farmers' fields. We alternated between being blinded by "white outs," sliding this way and that due to packed snow, and straddling paths worn by other hapless commuters. It was a joy to share this adventure with trucks and jeeps that likely found the harrowing experience "fun" as well.

Needless to say, we made our way to the historic small town in one piece, or I might not be writing this today. One takeaway: It's not always in my best interest to have an overwhelming urge to explore when the weather isn't the greatest. 

Anyway---if you, too, should find yourself in cabin fever mode, (winter isn't quite over yet), Columbia is an interesting day trip and a one that will likely be particularly fascinating to history buffs.

The Time-Tested Town of Columbia 

Once known as Wright's Ferry, the small town located in Lancaster County was founded in 1726 by Colonial English Quakers and was once a choice for our nation's capital. 

Today, visitors can learn about old businesses that have withstood the test of time and a museum that tells the history of time. They can explore the interior of a bank that dates back to the 1860's and stand at the site of a bridge that lives in infamy.

Visiting the many antique shops and examining age-old artifacts will transport many back in time to the days of yore and a tour of an old homestead brings to life the fascinating tale of an early female settle who was well ahead of her time.  


The Historic Wrightsville Bridge

The summer of 1863 was a pivotal time in the Civil War. The Confederate Army invaded Pennsylvania, captured York and set its sights on Harrisburg and Philadelphia. To achieve their goals, the Confederates plotted to cross the Susquehanna via the Wrightsville Bridge at Columbia. When Union forces got wind of the plan, they quickly hatched a scheme to set fire to the bridge to keep the Confederates at bay. The fire quickly engulfed the structure, destroying the longest covered wooden bridge in the world.

Today's Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge, now known as the Veterans Memorial Bridge, was built in 1930 and has been described by architectural engineers as one of the best examples of a multi-span, reinforced-concrete arched bridge from the earliest 20th century.

Early American Banking
In 1864, Solomon and Samuel Detwiler started with $100,000 capital to open a bank in the borough of Columbia. The brothers operated out of the first floor of their home at 170 Locust Street in what was known as the 371st bank to be chartered in the United States. In 1917, the bank merged with another and moved to a new location up the street. Solomon's wife inherited the property upon his death and passed it on to her children Horace and Effie, who eventually donated the property to the Columbia Free Public Library.
The First National Bank of Columbia
 When the library put the house on the market four years later, Lloyd and Jean Motter purchased the 6,500 square foot property. "When my father purchased it in the 1950s, my mom thought he was crazy because it was considered a bit of a white elephant and had been neglected for a few years. My mom knew what it would cost to maintain, so she was a little apprehensive, but my dad saw past all of that," said Nora Motter Stark.
Stark, who continues to live in the house, maintains as a museum the part of the property where the bank operated. "It's as if you walked in here in 1860 as a bank patron," said Stark. Visitors can admire the woodwork of customer-crafted teller cages made of black walnut and view the President's office. "It's one of the few banks that exists as part of a house in the United States," said Stark.
Interior Shots of the First National Bank of Columbia

The President's Office


Teller's Cage

Shots of the vault



Guests will have the opportunity to visit a room adjacent to the banking area where the Board of Directors conducted business around a fireplace festooned with what Stark believes are Henry Chapman Mercer tiles. (You can learn more about Henry Chapman Mercer a previous blog post here.)

The Boardroom

"I enjoy sharing the history of this bank on guided tours and describing the role it played in the development of bridges, canals and railroads," said Stark. To learn more, visit The First National Bank Museum website.

The National Watch and Clock Museum & the History of Time
National Watch and Clock Museum
The National Watch and Clock Museum, located at 514 Poplar Street, is dedicated to the history, science and art of timekeeping. The museum is a showplace for 12,000 time-related artifacts from around the world from early, non-mechanical devices like water clocks and sundials, to pocket watches, shelf clocks, calendar clocks, novelty clocks and today's more modern timepieces.
Pocket watch factory circa 1913, Lancaster PA
Neuchatel Clock circa 1800--Switzerland

Shelf clock c. 1740 Causard, Paris, France


Musical pocket watch with 24 gongs. Circa 1800, Switzerland

A highlight for visitors is a demonstration and history of the Engle Clock crafted by Hazelton native Stephen Decatur Engle. The magnificent monumental clock took 20 years to construct and and was completed by 1878.
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Engle allowed two Philly entrepreneurs to take the mechanical marvel on the road, market it as the "Eighth wonder of the world" and charge between 15 and 25 cents to see it in action.
To learn more about the National Watch and Clock Museum, visit their website here.

Visiting a 122-Year-Old Pharmacy
Hinkles Pharmacy has been operating in Columbia for 122 years now and is beloved among the locals. It serves the community as a pharmacy, a go-to place for holiday cards and gifts and a gathering for locals and non-locals alike to grab a bite to eat at an old-time lunch counter, or in a cozy teal-colored booth with a faux-wood finish. When I strolled in, I snapped this quick picture, trying my best to not appear touristy or intrusive...
Hinkles Pharmacy--a Columbia Institution since 1894
I was reminded of the old G.C. Murphy days where 5 & 10's were ubiquitous and shoppers would take a break for lunch in between errands. As you can see, they have yet to take down the holiday decorations and I did crop out a few Christmas trees that hung on the walls, although I do suppose they pride themselves on "not" keeping up with the times, so I assume that the decorations will be taken down "in due time" to make room for Valentine's Day at some point.
Hinkles serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and offerings run the gamut from homemade soups, to sandwiches, omelets and even steaks. The locals claim to enjoy the "shifter," although I have yet to try one. It's a sandwich comprised of ham, cheese, lettuce, tomato, sweet pickle and mayo and was once a favorite of the railroad workers who ran the shift engines.

Tour an Old Glass Factory
The Susquehanna Glass Factory dates back to 1910 when Albert Roye installed a glass-cutting machine in a shed behind his yard and opened for business. Two years later, his brother joined him and today the company is still going strong, operating at 731 Avenue H, not far from that original shed.

The family owned-and-operated business specializes in customizing glassware, sand etching, color screening, laser etching and rotary engraving and offers factory tours on request.
Workers at the Susquehanna Glass Factory--Photo by Mark Van Scyoc
 Their retail store is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Learn more from owner Walt Rowen in this video.

Antiques Galore
Befitting of its historic reputation, Columbia is well on its way to becoming an antiques destination. Burning Bridge Antiques Market located at 304 Walnut Street is home to three floors of antiques sold by more than 250 vendors.

A few shots of the interior of Burning Bridge Antiques by talented Leola photog Mark Van Scyoc


When Willis Herr discovered that the building was going to be razed to make room for a parking lot, he and his sons stepped in to save the structure which once served as a carriage shop, a sewing factory and a hardware store.
The 20,000 foot building has been restored to its original condition and visitors today feel as if they are stepping into the past as they admire the old wooden floors, the pressed tin ceilings and the American chestnut mill work.
Learn more about Burning Bridge Antiques here.

A History Lesson at Wright's Ferry Mansion
Wright's Ferry Mansion

Those visiting the area from May through October, can tour one of the first homes erected in the area. Situated near the Susquehanna River at 38 S. Second Street, is an historic property which tells the story of Susanna Wright, a native of Lancashire England who immigrated to Pennsylvania in 1714 and in 1728 settled in Columbia.
Her two-and-a-half story limestone dwelling is known as the only Pennsylvania English Quaker House furnished exclusively to the first half of the 18th century.
Susanna was the daughter of John Wright, who established an animal-powered ferry as one of the first means of crossing the Susquehanna River. She was versed in Latin and Italian and fluent in French. The highly respected businesswoman was also a noted poetess and scholar and friend of early Pennsylvania luminaries like Ben Franklin.
Curator Elizabeth Meg Schaefer, who authored the 304-page book titled, Wright's Ferry Mansion, The House, said, "Wright was one of the first people in Pennsylvania to raise silkworms and, with her brother, grew flax for linen, hemp for rope and coarse cloth, hops for beer and ale and had a notable orchard. She was exceptional in her versatile intellect and the breadth of her knowledge and interests."
Visitors will pass the high wooden door and step into the brick entryway where they can view the formal parlor, explore the clock room used for studying, entertaining and conducting business and marvel at the kitchen with its expansive hearth and squirrel-tale oven.
Upstairs, guests will get a peek into the rooms where Wright and her brother slept and where she likely raised her silkworms.
Shaefer, with her encyclopedic knowledge of Wright and the mansion, invites guests' questions and leaves patrons with a real sense of what it was like to have lived as a prominent proponent of colonial self-sufficiency in 18th-century Pennsylvania.

These are just a few notable educational and historic destinations worthy of further inspection in historic Columbia--a quaint, friendly, interesting town. 

To view more pictures, be sure to visit the Facebook page here.

1 comment:

  1. So glad you enjoyed you trip to Columbia... Next time you come for a visit please stop at the Historic Columbia Market House built in 1869.
    Hours: Friday: 4pm to 8 PM,
    Saturday and Sunday: 10 AM to 3 PM

    ReplyDelete