“Columbia Railroad” located in Banner Hall “Tow Hill, freedom in the photographs”
Located in the original English Evangelical Lutheran Church, Columbia Historic Preservation Society is dedicated to the preservation of the river town, formerly known as Wright’s Ferry and Shawana Town. Once considered as a possible site for locating our nation’s capitol, Columbia was once the gateway to the American West.
In addition to offering published articles and books on the town’s history, the museum houses a model train display, artifacts, a research room, microfilm archive, and publications pertaining to the history of this Susquehanna river town.
19-21 North Second Street
Columbia, Pennsylvania 17512
General inquiries can be directed to Christopher Vera.
717.572.7149 : Cell
We have volunteer opportunities available and invite the public to assist in keeping CHiPS active and open to the public!
Monthly meetings are scheduled for every first Monday of the month at 7 PM.
We also have a Membership Meeting to elect new officers once a year the second Sunday in April.
Columbia Historic Preservation Society is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
In 1724, John Wright, an English Quaker, traveled to the area (then a part of Chester County) to explore the land and proselytize to a Native American tribe, the Shawnee, who had established a settlement along a creek known as Shawnee Creek, which is still called that today. Wright built a log cabin near there on part of a tract of land first granted to George Beale by William Penn in 1699, and stayed for more than a year. The area was known as Shawanatown. When Wright returned in 1726 with Robert Barber and Samuel Blunston, he and the others began developing the area, with Wright building a house about a hundred yards from the edge of the Susquehanna River, in the area of South Second and Union Streets. This structure eventually became home to the Wright family, including sons John Jr. and James. Daughter Susanna, born in England in 1697, arrived in the area in 1718, and later moved to the family residence to help take care of her brothers and sisters after her mother died.
Robert Barber constructed a saw mill in 1727 and years later built a home near the river, on the Washington Boro Pike, along what is now Route 441. The home still stands across from the Columbia Wastewater Treatment Plant and is the second oldest in the borough, after the Wright’s Ferry Mansion.
Samuel Blunston constructed a mansion, which he named Bellmont, atop the hill next to North Second Street, near Chestnut Street, at the location of the present-day Rotary Park Playground. Upon his death, Blunston willed the mansion to Susanna Wright, who had become a close friend. She lived there, occasionally visiting brother James, ministering to the Native Americans, and raising silk worms for the local silk industry, until her death in 1784 at the age of 87. The residence was demolished in the late 1920s to allow for construction of the Veterans’ Memorial Bridge.
In 1730, John Wright was granted a patent to operate a ferry across the Susquehanna River and subsequently established the ferry, known as Wright’s Ferry, with Barber and Blunston. He also built a ferry house and a tavern on the eastern shore, north of Locust Street, on Front Street. The two-story log tavern, operated by John Wright, Jr. until 1834, consisted of a large room on either end connected by a passageway. When John Jr. married, he moved to York County’s western shore, in what became Wrightsville, and built a ferry house and tavern. The ferry itself consisted of two dugout canoes fastened together with carriage and wagon wheels. When numerous cattle were moved, the canoeist guided a lead animal with a rope so that the others would follow. If the lead animal became confused and started swimming in circles, however, the other animals followed until they tired and eventually drowned.
A Ferry Scene on the Susquehanna at Wright’s Ferry, near Havre de Grace. Pavel Petrovich Svinin (1787/88-1839), 1811-13. MMA 42.95.37.
Traffic heading west from Lancaster, Philadelphia, and other nearby towns regularly traveled through Columbia, using the ferry to cross the Susquehanna. As traffic flow increased, the ferry grew, to the point of including canoes, rafts, flatboats, and steamboats, and was capable of handling Conestoga Wagons and other large vehicles. Due to the volume of traffic, however, wagons, freight, supplies and people often became backed up, creating a waiting period of several days to cross the river. With 150 to 200 vehicles lined up on the Columbia side, ferrymen used chalk to number the wagons. Typical fares were as follows: Coach with four passengers and drawn by five horses-9 shillings; 4-horse wagon – 3 shillings and 9 pence; Man and horse – 6 pence. Fares were reduced in 1787 due to competition from Anderson’s Ferry, located further upstream, near Marietta. Wright’s Ferry was located immediately south of the Veterans Memorial Bridge along Route 462. In later years, Wright rented the ferry to others and eventually sold it. In 1729, after Wright had petitioned William Penn’s son to create a new county, the provincial government took land from Chester County to establish Lancaster County, the fourth county in Pennsylvania. County residents – Indians and colonists alike – regularly traveled to Wright’s home to file papers and claims, seek government assistance and redress of issues, and register land deeds. During this time, the town was called “Wright’s Ferry.” In 1738, James Wright built the Wright’s Ferry Mansion, the oldest existing house in Columbia, for his family. The structure can still be seen at Second and Cherry Streets.
Source: Wikipedia, and The Still Room blog. Painting from the Metropolitan Museum of Art Collection; A Ferry Scene on the Susquehanna at Wright’s Ferry, near Havre de Grace,by artist Pavel Petrovich Svinin (1787/88-1839), 1811-13. MMA 42.95.37. Special thanks to The Still Room blog for information about the painting by Pavel Petrovich Svinin. Please visit the blog for more interesting information such as Crossing Wright’s Ferry on the Susquehanna, 1787.
Born: ±1795, somewhere near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
(However, other sources say, 1797, Cecil County, Maryland)
Lived: ±1816-1830s, Columbia, Pennsylvania
Died: November 4, 1873, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The colorful, rags-to-riches saga of Stephen Smith traces his rise from slavery and poverty to wealth. Smith learned the lumber business while still a slave and, when free, owned a thriving lumber enterprise. Smith found a way to manage his various business ventures and at the same time become immersed in antislavery and religious activities. Called the richest antebellum black, he shared his wealth generously with a number of institutions.
Born near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in Dauphin County around 1795, Stephen Smith was the son of a slave woman, Nancy Smith; his father was unknown. Young Stephen was indentured to General Thomas Boude on July 10, 1801, when he was four or five years old. Boude was a former Revolutionary War officer from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania who allowed Smith to manage his entire lumber business as Smith approached manhood. Smith borrowed $50 on January 3, 1816 for the purpose of purchasing his freedom, and in that same year he purchased release from his indenture. On November 17, 1816 Smith married Harriet Lee, who worked as a servant in the Jonathan Mifflin home. Already equipped with entrepreneurial skills, Smith opened a lumber business and became involved in lucrative real estate operations while his wife operated an oyster and refreshment house.
Stephen Smith became involved in civil rights activities early on. He opposed the policies of the American Colonization Society and demonstrated his opposition in 1831, when he led free blacks in Columbia in a public meeting. In 1834, Smith joined such men as David Ruggles, John Peck, Abraham Shadd, and John B. Vashon who were the first black agents for Freedom’s Journal and later for The Emancipator . They were asked to secure subscriptions to the papers and collect what were called arrearages.
The astute businessman opened a lumber business in Columbia, Pennsylvania, and soon prospered. The risky work on the Underground Railroad did not intimidate such abolitionists as Smith and William Whipper. These two abolitionists and businessmen of Columbus, Pennsylvania escaped bodily harm and jail sentences for secreting slaves. Smith’s success in real estate ventures and work as an abolitionist disturbed whites who led a mob in an attack on his office in August 1834, spurring a race riot, followed by a second one in October. They wanted to frighten Smith and force him and other black real-estate owners to sell their property below market value and leave town. They also accused Smith of inflating the value of his property. William F. Worner’s account of the Columbia riots noted the letter that Smith received in 1835: “You must know that your presence is not agreeable, and the less you appear in the assembly of the whites the better it will be for your black hide, as there are great many in this place that would think your absence from it a benefit, as you are considered an injury to the real value of property in Columbia. You have [sic] better take the hint.” In the 1830s, Smith and several antebellum blacks were members of various boards; for Smith, it was the Columbia Bank. He may have been the bank’s largest stockholder, yet he could not become president due to bank rules preventing blacks from holding that post. His status, however, allowed him to name the white man who would be president.
Born: September 8, 1877, Columbia, Pennsylvania
Died: April 25, 1959, Roanoke, Virginia
Writer of numerous works of fiction and Hollywood film productions, Reginald Wright Kaufman was born to Andrew John Kaufman (a prominent Columbia attorney and president of the Central National Bank) and Anne Fausset Bruner.
Reginald embraced socialism and secular humanism about the time he entered Harvard. Although raised Episcopalian, he intellectually explored Mormonism, yet later actually joined the Russian Orthodox church, where he took the name ‘Basil.’ Some references suggest this was more a maneuver than an act of faith.
Reginald Wright Kaufman was a nephew (through marriage) of Samuel Wright, Esq. Samuel and his wife Ellen (Anne’s sister) lived in Anne’s household on South Second Street in Columbia and continued living there, after Anne’s passing, until they their deaths.
Upon graduating from Harvard in 1900, Reginald moved to Philadelphia with his first wife, Ellen, and one child. In 1911, in his introduction to The Girl That Goes Wrong, Reginald refers to having lived in a great many places both in the US and Europe. He and his wife barely supported themselves by writing sporadically for periodicals and newspapers.
Around 1910, Reginald and his new wife, Ruth, lived with Anne, Samuel, and Ellen at the same South Second Street house in Columbia (house next to the old Columbia Hospital).
Always willing to move where the work was, Reginald held the post of Editor of the Bangor Maine Daily News. And, only recently, it was discovered that he was an accredited correspondent with the United States Navy, and a member of La Société Académique d’Histoire.
Reginald Wright Kaufman went on to write numerous books, some of which were made into movie screenplays. And, although difficult to pin down, it’s said that some of his books, although fiction, refer to locations in and around Columbia.
View his Hollywood movie credits on the Internet Movie Database.
View a select list of his books on Amazon.
Reginald Wright Kauffman is buried in Columbia’s Mount Bethel Cemetery, along with his wife, Ruth Wright Kauffman.
Born: November 23, 1878, Upper Chanceford, Pennsylvania
Family moved to Columbia, Pennsylvania, 1888
Died: January 15, 1947, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Buried: Laurel Hill Memorial Garden, Columbia, Pennsylvania
“. . .he was a bigger cog in the old invincible Cub machine than he ever received credit for being.” – Johnny Evers
Samuel James ‘Jimmy’ Tilden Sheckard was a star early in the 20th century who might have made it into the Hall of Fame had he been more consistent.
Standing 5′ 9″, he broke in with Brooklyn in 1897. He played well in 1897 and 1898, showing some power, and in 1899 he spent a year with Baltimore before returning to Brooklyn in 1900, 1901, and most of 1902 before joining the new American League Baltimore team for 4 games at the end of 1902. Then, he was back to Brooklyn for another 3 years.
His 1901 season was notable, as he hit .354 with substantial power and drove in 104 runs. He led the league in slugging percentage. He also hit grand slams in consecutive days, an amazing feat, especially in theDeadball Era. It would be 77 years until another National Leaguer, Phil Garner, matched the accomplishment. In 1903, he hit .332, again with good power.
Sheckard joined the Chicago Cubs from 1906-12, which was their greatest era. They won the World Series in 1908, and won the pennants in 1906 (when they went 116-36), 1907, and 1910. Sheckard, however, was not able to play as well for them as he had earlier in the decade. While he was still an above-average player, other Cubs players were the big contributors. His best year with the Cubs was 1911, a year in which the Cubs did not win the pennant, when Sheckard led the league in runs scored, partly because he had 147 walks.
He finished out his career in 1913, split between St. Louis and Cincinnati.
Bill James has pointed out that Sheckard was a very talented player who at different times in his career did many impressive things. However, he could not consistently put those talents together for a whole career. Early in his career he led the league in stolen bases (in 1899 and 1903), once he was in the top 5 in batting average (in 1901), once he led the league in triples (in 1901), once he led the league in home runs (in 1903), whereas in the middle of his career he twice led the league in sacrifice hits (1906 and 1909), and late in his career he led the league in walks twice (1911 and 1912), and in runs scored (in 1911).
As a result, by the Black Ink and Gray Ink Hall of Fame appraisal methods developed by Bill James, Sheckard scores rather well, while by the Hall of Fame Monitor method, he scores rather poorly.
He played in approximately 2,100 games and had around 2,100 hits. His lifetime .274 batting average was hurt by playing in the dead-ball era for most of his career. His substantial number of walks gave him an impressive on-base percentage of .375.
By the similarity scores method, the most similar player is his National League contemporary Tommy Leach.
He died after being hit by a car while walking to work in Lancaster. James Sheckard is buried in Columbia, Pennsylvania.
• Holds NL record for sacrifice hits in a season with 46.
• NL record for walks in a season in 1911 with 147 (a record which lasted over 30 years).
• NL On-Base Percentage Leader (1911)
• NL Slugging Percentage Leader (1901)
• NL Runs Scored Leader (1911)
• NL Triples Leader (1901)
• NL Home Runs Leader (1903)
• 2-time NL Bases on Balls Leader (1911 & 1912)
• 2-time NL Stolen Bases Leader (1899 & 1903)
• 100 RBI Seasons: 1 (1901)
• 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 3 (1899, 1901 & 1911)
• 50 Stolen Bases Seasons: 2 (1899 & 1903)
• Won two World Series with the Chicago Cubs in 1907 and 1908
The following written history and related facts was written by R. Ronald Reedy, Lititz Springs Park Historian; August 2002. It has been edited down slightly to only those facts most pertinent to Columbia. The complete text can be read at the source link found at the end of this post.
The history of the Reading & Columbia Rail Road started with the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad Company chartered April 4, 1833 by an Act of the Pennsylvnia Legislature. This is part of a complex story that began locally in 1857 with generated interest in a railroad between Reading and Columbia.
A group of influential citizens from Lancaster and Berks Counties secured passage of a charter creating the Reading & Columbia Rail Road Company which was signed by Governor James Pollock on May 19, 1857. By December 1860, the survey and location of the R&C route was completed. It was decided that Sinking Spring, where a connection could be made with the Lebanon Valley Railroad, would be the starting point and the line would run by the way of Reinholds, Stevens, Ephrata, Akron, Millway, Rothsville, Lititz, Manheim, Landisville, and onto Columbia—a distance of 39.8 miles. Although the major construction was started at the Columbia end of the line, the actual ground breaking for the R&C was completed March 28, 1861 at a gap in the South Mountains about 4 miles south of Sinking Spring.
The first Lititz passenger depot and express station was located on the north side of the tracks along Broad Street, which is the present site of Wilbur Chocolate Company. The depot was dedicated December 26, 1863, with the arrival of the first passenger train.
Following the completion of the railroad between Columbia and Sinking Spring, a special train carrying officials and invited guests made the first trip from Columbia to Reading on March 15, 1864. A morning train from Reading, and an afternoon train from Columbia, inaugurated the first regular passenger train schedule between Columbia and Reading April 1, 1864. Six passenger trains a day would stop at Lititz during their route to Reading or Columbia. Extra revenue was earned by the subsidized mail and railway express items that the trains carried.
By now, the Philadelphia & Reading Company, which operated the R&C, was merged with the Reading Company in 1923. The Reading Company assumed the operation of the Reading & Columbia Rail Road, but the R&C still retained its corporate existence. It was not until December 31, 1945 that the Reading & Columbia Rail Road Company was merged with the Reading Company after which the R&C as a corporate identity ceased to exist.
On April 1, 1976, the bankrupt Reading Company ceased being an operating railroad ending 143 years of railroading.
A Few Related Facts:
The first railroad to reach Columbia, the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad, was part of the state-built Main Line of the Public Works of Pennsylvania. The 82-mile like was completed in April, 1834, but not officially opened until October 7, 1834.
The Pennsylvania Railroad appeared in the 1850’s and quickly became a major industry in Columbia.
The Pennsylvania Legislature passed an act on April 13, 1846 incorporating the PRR and allowing it to build a line between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh.
In 1850 the company completed a line down the east shore of the Susquehanna River to Columbia and the P&C. On December 10, 1852, the first through train ran between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh using the P&C and PRR facilities.
The railroad soon took business from the state-owned canal system, which ran parallel to the tracks, and in 1857 the canal system was purchased by the PRR. The purchase included the P&C line.
Baltimore interests started a railroad in the 1820’s, the Baltimore and Susquehanna, to meet the Pennsylvania Public Works canal system. That new line made it to Wrightsville in 1840 and in order to cross the river to Columbia the railroad laid tracks on the bridge which was built in 1834.
That bridge was burned in 1863 to prevent Confederate forces from crossing the river and trains did not cross the river again until 1869 when the Columbia Bridge Co. built a replacement covered bridge. The PRR bought the Wrightsville, York and Gettysburg line in 1870 and the bridge in 1879.
The PRR expanded rapidly in the 1870’s. The railroad station was relocated from the Washington House, at Front and Walnut Streets, to its present site on the opposite corner of the same intersection; and in 1872 saw the construction of a 360-degree roundhouse north of the present Bridge Street.
Soon the PRR had three yards in town: No. 1 or the East Yard, on the old P&C line near Fourth and Manor Streets, had a 13-stall, 180-degree roundhouse; No. 2 was on the Columbia & Port Deposit line and ran parallel to front Street; and No. 3 was west of Second Street, north of Bridge Street. It contained a major shop complex, coaling facility and water reservoir, and the 360-degree roundhouse.
When an 1896 hurricane destroyed the bridge over the river, the PRR had a replacement assembled in 21 days on the old piers a year later. This was one of the first prefabricated structures built in the United States. Originally the railroad intended the bridge to have two decks, the lower for trains and the upper for other traffic. The top deck was never added and cars and trains shared the planked lower deck until the Rt. 462 bridge was completed in 1930.
During 1904-1906 the PRR built the Atglen and Susquehanna Branch, a double track railroad which ran parallel to the Main Line from Parkesburg, PA, to a new yard at Enola on the west side of the river, opposite Harrisburg. When the Enola yard opened the PRR moved many jobs there thus decreasing the work force at the Columbia shops, roundhouse and yards.
During the Depression of 1938 the PRR electrified the Columbia Branch, from Columbia to Lancaster, the A & S and the C & PD lines. This came at the right time since World War II would son break out, and without electrification it was doubtful that the PRR could have handled the freight that it did through the town.
At one time the PRR ran passenger trains in four directions from Columbia: east-west between Lancaster and York, north to Middletown and south to Perryville, MD.
But the hard times in the 1930’s stopped service to Middletown on November 29, 1931 and Perryville on April 15, 1935; and when east-west runs ended on January 4, 1954 the railroad was using a single gas-electric car often called a “Doodlebug” between Lancaster and York.
In the early 1970’s Amtrak, the National rail passenger corporation, ran passenger trains between Washington and Harrisburg through Columbia but they did not stop at Columbia.
From the Civil War to the turn of the century the Shawnee Furnace refined iron ore at Fifth and Union Street, near the Shawnee Creek; and ran its own transportation system-the Shawnee Railroad. Much of the railroad ran near the creek where the engines hauled cars loaded with finished products and waste.
In 1857 the Pennsylvania General Assembly approved an act incorporating the Reading and Columbia Railroad Co. The railroad was to run from Columbia to connect with the Lebanon Valley Railroad between Sinking Spring and Reading.
Construction crews completed the company’s first division, Columbia to Manheim, by January 1, 1862 but a labor shortage during the Civil War delayed a connection with the Lebanon Valley company until March 31, 1864.
By 1866, the R&C had its passenger station in Carpet Hall, at Front and Locust Streets; but by the 1880’s passenger business had grown enough that a new passenger station was built at the same site. Designed by noted Philadelphia architect, Frank Furness, the two story structure combined “Queen Anne” and “Eastlake” styles with company offices on the second floor, while spacious waiting rooms and a large open fireplace with a Minton tile hearth were on the first floor where passengers boarded trains under a protective train shed.
The P&R reorganized in 1896 as the Reading Company, and passengers from Columbia found the company had numerous trains to other towns on its line. For example on weekdays, in 1923, three trains ran from Columbia and three to the town; at Manheim passengers could make connections to Lebanon, and at Reading passengers could board trains to Shamokin, Philadelphia and New York City.
The Columbia Historic Preservation Society Model HO Model Railroad covers 1000 square feet and is HO (1:87) scale. The picture above is located in the Columbia area of the layout. The Columbia area is prototypical (based on what actually existed). The time era of Columbia is 1920-1940. Columbia covers approximately 200 sq.ft. of the layout, and is home to a large roundhouse facility, a major yard, coaling and diesel facilities as well as two railroad stations (Pennsylvania RR and Reading RR).
A Brief History of the LayoutCHPS Train Display 3
The layout started out in the basement of Jack Belsinger, a Lancaster,PA man. Being from Europe, he modeled European trains. He gave the layout to Calvin Duncan who worked to find a home for it. The layout was smaller than what it is today. In 1993, CHiPS agreed to take the layout. It was cut into pieces and stored in the unused second floor of the history museum. In 1998, work began on preparing the unused second floor, and the layout was reconstructed.
In 2000, it was decided to build an HO diorama of Columbia as it appeared in the first half of the 20th century. Since 2000, all the track was replaced, and Digital Command Control (DCC) was installed, replacing the Zero-1 System. Two foot high backdrops were constructed to isolate various scenes, and to direct visitors up and down aisles around the layout. The layout is an ongoing work in progress.
Roland Zimmerman and his family visited the layout during the open houses. He shot the video below, and added the guitar music. He gave us permission to add the video to our website.
Roland Zimmerman’s Video (2013)
What’s Happening So Far in 2016
We were given a 24 ft. x 10 ft. HO layout by a man in nearby Landisville. Over a period of 2 weeks (3 evenings a week), seven of us dismantled the layout into eight sections. One of our group obtained a moving van, and in one evening six “muscle guys” moved the sections from Landisville to the train room at CHPS.Most of this layout will be part of the layout expansion project. The layout includes several buildings, all the track and switch machines, a 18-stall scratchbuilt roundhouse and operating turntable. We purchased the turntable system and four Digitrax boosters. Also, lots of trees.