Did you know that Columbia was almost the capital of the United States? Here are some details on that and some other interesting facts about Columbia.
Almost federal, state capital
When Samuel Wright laid out 160 building lots for the new town in 1788, he reserved a square and a half for what he hoped would become the capital of the United States.
Naming the new town “Columbia” in honor of Christopher Columbus was also meant to encourage the U.S. Congress to select it as the nation’s capital.
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George Washington favored the idea, but when Congress voted in 1790, Columbia lost by one vote to a spot along the Potomac River that would become Washington D.C..
Later, Columbia narrowly missed out on being named the state capital, in favor of Harris’ Ferry, which became Harrisburg.
Dungeon under market house
The market at 15 S. Third St., Columbia was built in 1869 and underneath the building is a dark basement known as The Dungeon.
Seven cells, including one clad in steel for maximum security, once housed 19th-century drunks, robbers and murderers. Electricity didn’t come to the basement jail until the 1960s.
The dungeon has occasionally been open to the public during a variety of historical tours, although with the market house now closed, there are none planned.
A ham sandwich on white bread that was traditionally eaten by Pennsylvania Railroad workers is still served in several restaurants in Columbia.
The shifter sandwich is named for the small team engines, called shifters, that moved railroad cars around the yard.
At Hinkle’s Restaurant, the shifter sandwich is made with ham, cheese, lettuce, tomato, sweet pickles and mayonnaise.
Rosie’s Deli, which bills itself as the “Home of the Shifter” adds onions to the sandwich’s ingredients.
The school is the town
Unique for boroughs in Lancaster County, the school district and the borough in Columbia share the same boundary lines.
Having the borough as its only tax base limits the school district’s budget and means taxpayers pay the highest school tax rate in Lancaster County. But it also means students get some of the benefits of a small school system. Last year’s high school graduating class had 70 students.
“We’re small enough to be the private school feel, but we’re a public school. I think it’s the best private- public school in the state of Pennsylvania,” said Tom Strickler, superintendent of the Columbia Borough School District.
To help pay for some extracurriculars, Strickler says the school relies on private funds, which he says fosters a close relationship with the town.
Mayflies on the bridge
On a Saturday night in June 2014, thousands and thousands of mayflies swarmed the lights on the Route 462 bridge, died and fell to the road, causing three motorcycle crashes and creating what was termed a “blizzard of insects.”
The swarming insects, which only live for about a day or two, created a surreal scene that garnered national attention.
It turned out the mayflies were attracted to art deco lights that had just been installed on the bridge as part of a renovation project.
To prevent a repeat of the mayfly swarm, the lights are turned off for about a month each year during the main mayfly season.
As part of a state Department of Transportation bridge renovation project set to begin in 2020, the lighting will be put under the bridge’s arches so the mayflies swarm there, and not above the roadway.
The renovation project will also add walking and bicycle lanes.