The Underground Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania Makes Significant Strides in First 100 Days


The winter months are typically a quiet time in the museum world. Not so for the Underground Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. In the three-plus months since its launch in December 2023, the project has made important strides as it eyes an opening sometime in 2026. That year will mark the 300th birthday of the dynamic river town, which originally went by Wright’s Ferry—named for Columbia’s “first family.”  

Among the early supporters of the Underground Railroad project is the Louise Steinman von Hess Foundation, which operates the Wright’s Ferry Mansion —recognized as one of the finest small museums in the state. 

“The Foundation’s gift of $35,000 was an unexpected but much appreciated act of generosity,” says Daisy Pagan, a founding member of the Underground Railroad Center of Columbia (URCC), the 501(c)(3) spearheading the museum project. “It is the first of many partnerships we hope to forge with aligned museums, historical societies and important historic sites in Lancaster and York counties, with the overarching goal of supercharging heritage tourism in our area.”

The von Hess gift is special, Pagan adds, because the unique role played by Columbia in the Underground Railroad was a direct outgrowth of the Wright family’s commitment to creating a safe place for freedom seekers and people of color.  

“Wright’s Ferry Mansion and the Louise Steinman von Hess Foundation greatly believe in the importance of this new museum dedicated to the Underground Railroad narrative, as well as its envisioned visitor and economic enrichments of Columbia,” says Jim Abbott, Executive Director, Wright’s Ferry Mansion, Louise Steinman von Hess Foundation. “We are honored to be able to contribute to its development and we look forward to partnering with the museum on events and programming in the future for the benefit of one and all.”

According to Edward Harris, President & CEO of Discover Lancaster—the official destination marketing organization for Lancaster County—the three major projects under way in the area (the Underground Railroad Museum of Pennsylvaniain Columbia, the Mifflin House & Farmstead in Wrightsville and the Thaddeus Stevens & Lydia Hamilton Smith Center in Lancaster) will combine to form a powerful drawf or visitors to Gettysburg, creating a new heritage tourism corridor that will benefit the entire region.   

“This important heritage project is very exciting for tourism growth in Columbia, Lancaster County, and the wider region,” he notes. “Travel interest in history, especially the Underground Railroad, continues to flourish in this area and we look forward to the museum making a vital contribution in telling these stories.”

Other highlights from the URCC’s first 100 days include a half-hour feature on the museum airing on WGAL’s In Focus, and participation in a Black History Month special produced by WGAL anchor Michael Fuller. The URCC also launched a social media initiative entitled Today in Underground Railroad History. The first-of-its-kind series—rolled out daily on the museum’s Facebook page—highlights more than 300 important moments in the fight for freedom.   

The Underground Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania will be located at 331 Locust Street, a short walk from the Wright’s Ferry Mansion, the Columbia Historic Preservation Society, the 1869 Market House and other historic structures that already draw thousands of people a year to downtown Columbia. Plans for the 8,000 sq. ft. attraction include a detailed interpretation of abolitionist and anti-slavery activity in the state, from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, with a particular focus on the Columbians engaged in a “conspiracy of good” that spanned generations—all told through immersive, interactive leading-edge exhibit technology.  

“Antebellum Columbia wasn’t a perfect place,” says URCC member Mark Stewart. “Far from it. But it was the place where people made a stand, often at extreme personal risk, and said This stops here. Those individuals committed to an ideal and did the right thing during one of the bleakest time sin our nation’s history. To me, that is a story worth telling.”