How Columbia and Millersville nearly became the county seat for Lancaster

When Lancaster County was established—to rid Chester County of its “thieves, vagabonds, and ill people”—on May 10, 1729, the provincial government of Pennsylvania reminded the new commissioners that several important tasks had to be accomplished. The three biggest were selecting a county seat, erecting a courthouse, and building a jail.

Recognizing the financial opportunities of having the county seat on or near your property, several men hatched plans to locate it near them.

First was Robert Barber who lived in a hamlet known as Wright’s Ferry (present-day Columbia). In fact, several of the regions most influential citizens lived there including John Wright (for which the town was named), Samuel Blunston, and Barber. Wright, Barber, and Blunston were all local movers and shakers. They were also Quakers, which sat well with the provincial government, and definitely a vote in favor of making Wright’s Ferry the county seat. Barber, who was also the first sheriff, went ahead and built a log jail at Wright’s Ferry, in an attempt to make the river community the logical place for the county seat.

1894 map of Columbia

But other men had similar ideas.

Several miles southeast of Columbia, along the Old Conestoga Road near Rock Hill innkeeper John Postlethwaite exerted pressure on his guests and was successful in having the first county court held at the inn on August 5, 1729. John Wright was even the presiding magistrate.

Postlethwaite’s tavern along Long Lane near Rock Hill was Lancaster County’s first “courthouse” in 1729. The structure still stands today.

The Postlewaite’s tavern, now a home, as it appears today.

The Postlewaite’s tavern, now a home, as it appears today.

Court was held at the tavern for the August and November 1729 terms as well as the February, May, and August 1730 sessions.

The plaque outside the home that commemorates the site.

Residents in the eastern part of the county wanted to have the seat of government closer to the center of the population. Sympathetic to this desire, the provincial government decided that a tract of about 500 acres one mile north of the Conestoga River would suffice. Enter Provincial Prothonotary (fancy word for chief clerk) Andrew Hamilton. Hamilton was charged with discovering who owned the property. Seeing the value of the land, Hamilton purchased the property through some fancy legally maneuvering through an agent in England.

Andrew Hamilton, Esquire

Hamilton believed the Lancaster site to be a good investment for his son and family…and he was correct. 

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