Columbia Association – Columbia Archives

Welcome to Columbia Archives, a service of Columbia Association in Columbia, Maryland.

Columbia Archives is the primary resource on the history of the planning and development of the planned community of Columbia, as well as the life and career of its visionary founder, James Rouse. Columbia Archives serves researchers at every level and welcomes residents and visitors who wish to learn more about Columbia’s past, present, and future.James Rouse image

James W. Rouse speaking at the U.S. Business Hall of Fame Induction,
1981, James W. Rouse Papers, Columbia Archives

To view this exhibit, click here.

Visit or contact Columbia Archives

  • We are located at 6310 Hillside Court, Suite 100, Columbia, MD 21046.
  • Our hours of operation are Monday-Friday from 9am to 5pm.
  • All archival materials must be returned to archives staff within 10 minutes of closing.
  • There are times that we close to accommodate off-site outreach programs or staff schedules.
  • Appointments are preferred — that way, we may prepare for your visit and serve you better.
  • Please call 410-715-6781 or email us at Columbia.Archives@ColumbiaAssociation.org.

The history of Columbia Archives

The origin story of Columbia Archives can be traced back to 1982. Back when Columbia was just 15 years old, “longtime” resident Rebecca Orlinsky organized a display of clippings and other ephemera — and the exhibit garnered such strong public enthusiasm that a petition formed to continue chronicling the community’s history.

Within a year, The Museum and Archives of the History of Columbia, MD, which evolved into Columbia Archives, was born. Orlinsky and Ruth McCullough volunteered daily, and donations of materials came pouring in from countless residents and people who helped shape the city. Former Rouse Company employees Mickey Dunham and Jeanne Shea and community activist Norman Winkler were among the first donors.
In 1985, the “The Land Puzzle” exhibit — a notable first look at the land plats secretly bought by The Rouse Company for development, photos of the landowners and original drawings of the first concepts of Columbia — was mounted at a gallery at Howard Community College

The collection continued to flourish with donations from community activists such as Florence Bain, Priscilla Hart, Lloyd Knowles, May Ruth and Henry Seidel, and Helen Ruther, among many others. We outgrew our original space in Banneker Building, which was at the time the headquarters for Columbia Association’s open space division, and moved to Century Plaza, another office building in Town Center.
Among the outreach programs we presented to involve the community was an exhibit featuring local art legends Wes Yamaka and John Levering. A call to the community brought in more than 200 pieces for a one-day event. Many works were ultimately donated to us, and this collection remains popular with residents.

In 1992, Columbia Archives became part of Columbia Association, the nonprofit community services corporation that serves Columbia. The collection and the activities grew — most considerably in 1996, when Columbia Archives received the papers of James Rouse (which not only doubled the size of our holdings, but increased its significance).

Today, Columbia Archives remains true to its mission to collect, preserve and make available the documentation of Columbia’s early history and ongoing development. Over the years, we’ve expanded our community outreach through public programs, exhibits, articles in local publications and stories on Columbia Association cable TV productions. We continue to collect materials, including those related to community organizations and oral histories with residents.

Documents and items in our archives have been used for research by various authors, including Joshua Olsen (“Better Places, Better Lives, a Biography of James Rouse”); Ann Forsyth (“ReForming Suburbia”); Nicholas Bloom (“Suburban Alchemy and Merchant of Illusion: James Rouse”); Paul Marx (“Jim Rouse Capitalist/Idealist”); and Joseph Mitchell and David Stebenne (“New City Upon a Hill”); and filmmakers Cari Stein and Kim Skeen (“Global Harbors: a Waterfront Renaissance”).