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On the road: historic, extraordinary Columbia

COLUMBIA - Columbia, located in picturesque Lancaster County, is an area rich in history. Formerly known as “Wright’s Ferry," the town was founded in 1726 by Colonial English Quakers from Chester County and was once considered as a choice for our nation’s capital.

For those itching for a day trip, Columbia doesn’t disappoint, especially for history buffs. There are historic structures to tour and old businesses to visit, and even a national museum containing contents that have withstood the test of time.

National Watch and Clock Museum

The National Watch and Clock Museum at 514 Poplar St. is dedicated to the history, science and art of timekeeping. The museum houses approximately 12,000 items from all over the world, from early non-mechanical devices like water clocks and sundials to pocket watches, tall clocks, shelf clocks, calendar clocks, novelty clocks and today’s more modern timepieces.

A short lecture and demonstration of the “Engle Monumental Clock,” is held several times a day at the museum, so be sure to inquire at the front desk for exact times. Once known as the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” the clock crafted by Hazleton resident Stephen Decatur Engle took 20 years to construct and was completed by 1878.

The mechanical marvel was displayed on tour throughout the Eastern United States for a total of 70 years, and crowds paid between 15 and 25 cents per person to see it in action.

Visit a 122-year-old pharmacy

The beloved institution known as Hinkle’s Pharmacy has been serving Columbia residents for years. The family owned and operated business not only dispenses prescriptions, but also carries a range of items from toiletries, to gifts, cards and holiday decorations.

The restaurant, often referred to as a “landmark among locals” is a throwback to the days of yore and elicits a tinge of nostalgia among those of a certain age. Mike Clark, a writer and Columbia native, said the business has grown over the years. “When I was a kid in the ‘50s, Hinkle’s was a small pharmacy, with magazines and a soda fountain where you could order ice cream and cherry coke, which was my favorite.” Clark said it has since grown into the "town hub.’"

“People from all generations get together there and talk. It’s like ‘Cheers,’ where everybody knows your name.”

The eatery, with its old-school lunch counter, reasonable prices and cozy booths in shades of teal, possesses that home-town feel of days gone by. Waitresses traverse a path between tables to serve customers breakfast, lunch and dinner. The array of items include homemade soups, sandwiches, omelets, steaks, and the popular “Shifter” sandwich. Once a favorite of the railroad workers who ran the switch engines, the “shifter” is comprised of ham and cheese, lettuce, tomato, sweet pickle and mayo.

Antiques galore

Columbia is known for its plentiful antique shops, many of which beckon visitors with “open” flags. A 20,000 square foot building located at 304 Walnut St. is particularly impressive. Named “Burning Bridge Antiques,” the business was once home to a carriage shop, a sewing factory and a hardware store. When Willis Herr and his sons heard rumors that the building was going to be razed to make room for a parking lot, they set about to save the historic structure. They succeeded, not only in saving the building, but also restoring it to its original condition. With its original pressed tin ceiling, wood flooring and American chestnut millwork, it’s a beauty to behold and is home to more than 250 vendors.

Explore early American banking

The First National Bank Museum of Columbia tells a story about the 371st bank to be chartered in the United States. Brothers Solomon and Samuel Detwiler, who opened for business in 1864 with $100,000 capital, ran the bank from the first floor of their home at 170 Locust St.

When the owners died, the property was passed down to other family members who eventually willed it to the Columbia Free Public Library, which put it on the market four years later.

Nora Motter Stark’s parents purchased the place - and the rest is history. “When my father purchased it in the 1950s, my mom thought he was crazy because it was considered to be a bit of a white elephant which had been neglected for a few years. She was a little apprehensive, but my dad saw past all of that,” said Stark.

Today, she and her husband live in her childhood home and maintain a museum where the bank once operated. Visitors can view the custom-crafted teller cages made of black walnut and the president’s desk crafted of the same material.

A room adjacent to the banking area is open to the public and guests can just imagine the Board of Directors conducting business around the large table which sits in front of an impressive fireplace festooned with tiles Stark believes may have been crafted by Henry Chapman Mercer.

Tours are available by appointment and arrangements can be made by visiting the website at

For such a small town, Columbia is filled with a variety of out-of-the-ordinary destinations, making it a fun-filled, educational and interesting place to spend the day.

Other suggested stops include:

Paul Prudhomme’s Lost Cajun Kitchen, 50 Lancaster Ave.: indulge in Cajun food while learning more about the historic building formerly known as the “Rising Sun Hotel.” With visitors like Al Capone and buttons that still exist along the wall to warn owners of cops during prohibition, it’s a building with a notorious past. Open Tuesday through Sunday.

The Susquehanna Glass Factory, 731 Avenue H: the glass factory has been a Columbia mainstay since 1910. Tours are available on request. Shop operates from Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The historic Wright’s Ferry Mansion, 38 S. Second St.: tells the story of Susanna Wright, one of Columbia’s first occupants. Learn the story of Susanna from curator Elizabeth Meg Schaefer. Open from May through October on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Learn more at