Columbia Market House
Exterior view
Columbia Market House
Interior view
Columbia Market House
Basement hallway
Columbia Market House
Basement cell

The Columbia Market House Lockups

The Columbia Market House is located on Third Street in historic downtown Columbia, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Built in 1869, the Columbia Market House is the oldest market house in Lancaster County. The Columbia Market House blends both Federal and Greek Revival architectural styles.

The Columbia Market House also has the distinction of having its own "dungeon." The basement of the Market House, originally used as storage for the farmers, came in handy for other uses. When the jail filled up, the overflow landed in the Market House basement.

The Entrance

On the south side of the market house, along Avenue I, is a small stairway leading down to the basement entrance.

At the bottom of the concrete and stone stairwell, a large wooden door is found, with a barred transom above the door. The red door has no handle, knob or window, and there is no knocker or door bell to be found.

This door leads into the catacomb like basement of the Columbia Market House.

The Vestibule and Hallway

As you enter the doorway, you step onto a loose brick floor into a small vestibule. To your left is the first of several rooms that line the long hallway that crosses the entire width of the market house.

Directly in front of you is a vestibule door. Another heavy wooden door sits in a heavy wooden wall that has been built into the arched stone hallway. Another barred transom can be found above this door, and a small viewing window in the door is also protected by bars.

Stepping through the vestibule doorway, you can now see the entire length of the hallway, and the many doorways to the rooms that line the left side of the hall. The whitewashed stone walls are dimly lit by a number of electric lamps lining the left wall. Iron rods pierce through the walls at several spots along the ceiling as part of the building's support structure.

The Cell Door

Of the many doors lining the left side of this "dungeon" hallway, the first door was most obviously designed as a cell door.

The heavy wooden door is covered with sheet metal. A small window in the door is framed with wood that appears to have once held a sliding plate that could cover that window.

The door is secured with a heavy iron lock, held fast to the door with two large iron straps, secured to the door with large square-headed bolts.

Two iron strap hinges hold the door fast to the wooden doorway. A look at the edge of the door shows that it is made of three layers of wood, covered with sheet metal on both sides.

The Cell

As you pass through the doorway into the cell, you step down from the brick walkway onto a dirt floor.

In the dimly lit cell, you can see that all of the walls and ceiling of the cell have been covered in the same type of sheet metal that covered the cell door. A steel plate with small holes covers the transom above the door.

Along the ceiling, you can see more of the iron rods that support the structure of the market house passing through the walls of the cell. At the back end of the cell, another steel plate with holes covers an opening to a light well that opens onto the sidewalk on Third Street.

There is little in the way of human comforts in this cell. Very little natural light comes through the steel plate covering the window well, and a single incandescent bulb provides minimal lighting to the room. The flash from the camera provides much more detail than the human eye can see when standing in the cell.

This would not have been a pleasant place to stay.

The Upstairs Cells

At some later point in time, two jail cells were built inside of the market house on the ground floor level.

These two cells are in a section of the market house that is of newer construction than the original building. Two block walls abut the area where the public bathrooms are located, and two modern steel doors can be found on two rooms that are currently being used for storage and utility purposes.

However, a close inspection of the doors and their hardware show that these were indeed jail cell doors. The door locks are typical of jail cell door locks, And barred observation openings in the doors have small steel hinged openings so the prisoners can be observed from the outside.

A look inside shows that the rooms are of a size typical of a holding cell. The cell is big enough for one or two people, with just enough room for a cot or bunk bed.

On a wall of each room, a window that would provide light and ventilation to the cell is covered with steel bars to prevent escape.

There did not appear to be any type of facilities in the cells, such as a sink or toilet. Since these cells were built connected to the public toilet facilities, prisoners were apparently taken there when the urge arrived.


Our thanks to the officers of the Columbia Borough Police Department for making us aware of these jail facilities, and for providing us with information and access to the building.

Photo Gallery

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