The History of the Market House Dungeon
When Columbia folks go to the market, they step back more than 100 years in history. Built in 1869, the Columbia Market House has served as a lively center of activity for the town of Columbia, PA and surrounding areas. Farmers from both Lancaster and York counties traveled to the Market House to sell their items. Market days were festive times filled with fresh produce, fine handmade goods and in the evenings, lively music and dancing.
With good food in your belly, and music in your ears, it would be hard to imagine that this cheerful, prosperous building hid a dark secret…but it does.
Beneath the spacious, clerestoried hall, beneath the laughter and dancing feet lies an earlier and smaller basement known as “The Dungeon.” This dark, damp alley even boasts a maximum security cell entirely clad in steel. For many years, miscreants were held here – whether overnight for drunk and disorderly or for several days awaiting transport to trial at the courthouse in Lancaster City for robbery (or even murder). Conditions were so deplorable that one contemporary critic pronounced it as bad as the Black Hole of Calcutta. An overstatement? Perhaps.
As you walk through The Dungeon, imagine yourself detained here. No light (electricity was not added until the 1960′s), the air chill and damp and fetid, your straw bed shared with a host of vermin. It is little wonder that more than a few of the unfortunates incarcerated here spoke of eerie murmurs and a dark and ominous presence.
*Guided tours of the dungeon will be held every Saturday & Sunday 11am to 1pm.
© Columbia Market House