Paris is a bustling center of culture and commerce, setting of countless novels and films, the “City of Light,” the most romantic place on earth. It is also an ocean away.
But suddenly we seem to have our own Paris in Lancaster County.
“Don’t miss your chance to see why some are calling Columbia ‘the Paris of Pennsylvania,’ ” says a postcard announcing a Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County architectural walking tour. The tour will be conducted in September in a “Paris” along the Susquehanna, not the Seine.
Who calls Columbia “the Paris of Pennsylvania?”
“I have never heard that phrase,” says Leo Lutz, Columbia’s longtime mayor and booster. “I have heard and actually have used the term ‘the jewel of the Susquehanna.’ ”
So who does compare Columbia with Paris?
Matt Barley, a Historic Preservation Trust board member, Lancaster architect and coordinator of the upcoming architectural tour, originated the idea.
“It started as a joke,” he admits. “But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Columbia, on a small scale, has much in common with Paris.”
For example, Barley mentions the arched concrete bridge crossing the Susquehanna, with its antique lights and scenic views of the river hills. And the architecture — the most impressive in Lancaster County outside Lancaster city. And multiple museums and antique shops. And artists at work.
“As Lancaster becomes enormously expensive, the artists are moving to Columbia,” notes Barley, himself a furniture designer who moved his family to the borough a year ago. “My wife and I love it. It’s affordable, quiet, not much traffic.”
Just like Paris, France?
“When we first announced that we were moving to Columbia, it was sort of a conversation stopper,” Barley says. “I feel a lot of people look down on Columbia, but they don’t really know it. It’s a great town with great architecture.”
The Columbia Historic District, incorporating nearly a thousand structures and one-third of the borough, is an eclectic mix of 18th through 20th century styles. Noted Lancaster and Philadelphia architects designed several buildings.
So what started as a joke has become a tour of “many beautiful sites; each one more architecturally interesting than the one before,” according to the tour description. The date is Sept. 28. Call 717-291-5861 for details.
Lutz is pleased the Preservation Trust has taken notice of Columbia. The borough has spent several years revitalizing the waterfront and downtown and creating a truck bypass around the historic district.
Sometimes it takes an outsider to notice Columbia’s impressive architecture, Lutz explains. During a recent tour, he noticed a Russian visitor constantly looking upward at buildings. He asked why. Said the Russian, “I have never seen as many beautiful buildings as you have here.”
Along with the residential structures, Lutz emphasizes the commercial buildings. “No one has a large inventory of old commercial buildings like Columbia,” he says. “We have three blocks of them.”
OK, “Paris of Pennsylvania” it is. But Columbia is not alone, as the Scribbler found when he Googled the phrase.
Paris, Pennsylvania, is a blink-or-you-will-miss-it town just before the West Virginia border west of Pittsburgh.
And “Paris of Pennsylvania” was associated with a practice Philadelphians introduced last summer. Residents lined dumpsters with plastic, filled them with water and created miniature swimming pools.
A chronicler of the recreation explains this as “a reason why many people refer to Philadelphia as the Paris of Pennsylvania.’’
But not this summer. The city has banned the practice.
Jack Brubaker, retired from the LNP staff, writes "The Scribbler'' column every Wednesday. He welcomes comments and contributions at firstname.lastname@example.org.