Columbia celebrated its 50th birthday in 2017. Six months of events brought the community together to appreciate the past and imagine the future.

Photo courtesy of Nicholas Griner, HCPSS

The celebration opened on March 19, highlighted by a tribute to Columbia by Rep. Elijah Cummings, and continued over several months with art exhibits; a performance with a cast of hundreds of Howard County students at the renowned Merriweather Post Pavilion; a reminder of James Rouse’s vision for Columbia and its promise for the future at Founder’s Day at Howard Community College; an interfaith service honoring Columbia’s diversity and inclusiveness; and many, many activities showcasing the rich cultural and artistic opportunities in Columbia.

But Columbia did not just appear out of the blue on June 21, 1967, when James Rouse welcomed people to Columbia and dedicated Wilde Lake, marking the beginning of the city.  Columbia was years in the making. Years filled with excitement and energy, opportunities and challenges, successes and failures. There were many key players, both in the spotlight and behind the scenes. This timeline chronicles the process from the “land for sale” sign that started it all in April 1962, through the land purchases, zoning, planning meetings, construction, street naming and more.

The material is culled from the documents, photographs, oral histories, and media coverage that are all part of Columbia Archives’ collection, including the James Rouse Papers. Each entry just scratches the surface. Readers are encouraged to visit Columbia Archives to dig deeper into the past.

November 29, 1967

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded its first Urban Transportation Award to Westinghouse for its work with “The Transit Expressway,” a small train that operates on an elevated structure. Columbia applied for — but did not win — a grant for the system to be installed in Columbia.

November 12, 1967
November 12, 1967 marked the grand opening of the Satyagraha Coffee House at Slayton House in Wilde Lake. James Rouse held an open discussion at the grand opening with teens, parents and other members of the community that concluded with a Q&A session. During this discussion, Rouse summarized the intended purpose of the coffee house: “We want our coffee house to be a place where young people as well as adults are able to be exposed to issues dealing with deeper meanings of life and of problems facing individuals, society and the world. I feel that we are very fortunate to be a part of a new city and part of the new America, and I hope that we can live up to the highest ideals its developers had hoped for.”

November. 1, 1967

Ametek, Inc. celebrated its first day of operations and Hittman Associates, Inc. occupied its own building on Nov. 1, 1967. Ametek (a manufacturer and distributor of analytical instruments) and Hittman (an engineering and research and development firm) were both located in the Oakland Ridge Industrial Center. Ametek employed 16 people on its first day of operations and Hittman employed 130 people.

October 8, 1967

The first town meeting “marked an historic step in the development of Columbia.” John Levering (manager of Columbia Association) and Jim Rouse met with residents and took questions from the audience. For many, it was their first time meeting Rouse. Questions ranged from availability of medical care and youth activities to the role of Columbia Association. It also included the dedication of the building named for John E. Slayton, the first manager of Columbia Association, who died shortly before the first residents moved into Columbia in July.

October 4, 1967

James Rouse was a man who took the phrase “if you see something, say something” to heart. In this letter, Rouse implored his management team to not only be conscious of their day-to-day job responsibilities, but also to hold one another accountable and to actively help solve problems that may lie outside of one’s job description. Rouse believed, “We are most helpful to one another when we have a spirit of concern that reaches beyond our direct line of work and assumes that everyone else is grateful for our help.”


October 1967

Wilde Lake’s Slayton House opened in October 1967. Slayton House, a multipurpose building with an auditorium, stage, lounge, dressing rooms and young people’s meeting place located next to the village shopping green, was designed with people of all ages in mind. Because the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center wouldn’t be completed for another two years, early Catholic and Protestant church services were also held here, as evidenced by this photograph of a young family walking to Sunday church services at Slayton House.

September 1967

Columbia’s first gas station opened for business in September 1967 in the Wilde Lake Village Center on Twin Rivers Road.


September 14, 1967

James Rouse testified before the Senate Finance Committee on Senate bills 2088 and 2100 introduced by Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York. Rouse drew heavily from his experience as a mortgage banker and real estate developer, particularly of The Village of Cross Keys in Baltimore as well as Columbia, although neither was specifically mentioned. In his testimony, he supported both bills because he believed they would incentivize developers to invest more in higher quality low-income housing, which would attract more residents and businesses as well as create jobs, the result of which would be an increase in the tax base while also minimizing the use of federal funds. Rouse emphasized the need for long-range community planning to avoid fragmented and disorganized redevelopment.


August 22, 1967

In what is commonly referred to as the “color-blind memo,” James Rouse wrote to Columbia developers and their sales associates to emphasize that Columbia’s policy was to not exclude anyone based on the color of his or her skin. He even encouraged the developers to provide copies of this memo to all employees who dealt directly with the public so there would be no ambiguity. Rouse wanted everyone to know without a doubt that Columbia’s doors and arms were wide open to the public unconditionally.


 August 17, 1967

New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy wrote to James Rouse on August 17, 1967 to solicit his feedback on two bills he introduced in the Senate regarding legislation for private sector investment in poverty-stricken urban areas. Senator Kennedy mentioned that hearings would more than likely be held as a result of these bills and wanted to hear his reactions; indirectly implying that he would like Rouse to testify. Rouse was asked to consider the bills’ effects not only as they related to business, but also their broader implications as a matter of public policy.

July 21, 1967

Torrential rain accompanied the opening night at Merriweather Post Pavilion on July 14. The planned gala outside at the lakefront was cancelled. Rouse invited Vice President Humphrey back for the Aug. 3 gala following the concert featuring the New York City Ballet in the Washington area premiere of George Balanchine’s “Jewels.”


July 14, 1967

Marjorie Merriweather Post presents silver-plated ticket to Vice President Hubert Humphrey at Merriweather Post Pavilion’s opening on July 14, 1967, flanked by Howard Mitchell, conductor of the National Symphony (left), and James Rouse.

July 13, 1967

In 1967, the Common Council of the City of London placed London Bridge on the market and began to look for potential buyers. Rouse apparently saw something and penned this note to Robert Cameron, vice president of engineering, land development and construction. Unfortunately this note is all the information about the idea of buying the bridge for Columbia that is in the Archives files. But it’s enough to see the extent of Rouse’s big ideas. It wasn’t Rouse, but an American did buy the bridge and had it installed at Lake Havasu.


July 4, 1967

Columbia’s first 4th of July. “Millions” poured into the Exhibit Center. There was a “parade, a traffic jam on Route 29 . . . people, ice cream, popcorn and dogs . . . Storm breaks up parade, fireworks are ruined by rain and exhibit building becomes a shelter for all,” notes the Exhibit Center log.


June 21, 1967

Frazar Wilde speaks to the audience of those who helped to move Columbia from idea to reality.  The dedication of the lake and the village named in his honor marked the beginning of Columbia. After listening to Rouse credit him for making Columbia possible, he said of Rouse, “no matter what back-up he had” — referring to the generous financial investment by the Connecticut General Insurance Company — “there would be no Columbia unless somebody had the imagination and the leadership to start such a project.”

June 2, 1967

A special meeting of the Board of Directors of Columbia Association was held on June 2, 1967, to ratify the appointment of John Levering as manager of the association. Levering said of Columbia Association: “One of the things that will make Columbia different from all of the other developments and new towns in America is the Columbia Association, the mechanism to carry out, in the new city, the sense of place — in a better physical environment, commercial development and community design.” Columbia – Spring 1967, published by The Rouse Company.


June 1, 1967

The swim center in Wilde Lake featured a unique A-frame roof that was designed to be open to the sky year-round. Side panel plexiglass inserts could be removed for the summer. The open air design proved to be unsuitable for Maryland winters and the roof was subsequently enclosed.


May 12, 1967

The groundbreaking ceremony for Hittman Associates, the first industrial firm to locate in Columbia, drew dignitaries including then-Governor Spiro Agnew. It was an important public relations event as well as a good opportunity for the industrial sales promotion program. The company opened its office a year later, in April 1968.

ground breaking ceremony Hittman Associates

May 3, 1967

Columbia Exhibit Center is under construction.

Columbia Exhibit Center is under construction

May 3, 1967

Construction is progressing at Wilde Lake Village Center.

Wild Lake village center under construction

April 19, 1967

James Ryan breaks with the larger Ryan Homes of Pittsburgh to build in Columbia, incorporating as The James P. Ryan Company. The company, which later changed its name to Ryland, built many of Columbia’s homes and became one of the nation’s largest home builders. Ryan’s first homes ranged in price from $19,000 to $40,000.

Ryan homes of Pittsburg

April 13, 1967

The construction of Wilde Lake Village Center is underway.

construction Wilde Lake Village Center

April 11, 1967

Merriweather Post Pavilion is under construction. The schedule called for opening night on July 14. Project director Bill Finley acknowledged the timeline was extremely tight but assured Howard Research and Development’s Board of Directors that it would be accomplished. And it was. Gilbane Building Company was the general contractor.

Merriweather Post Pavillion under construction

April 3, 1967

Columbia Swim Center in Wilde Lake is under construction. The original design featured an open-air roof and Plexiglass removable inserts.

Columbia Swim Center under construction

March 28, 1967

The date for Columbia’s opening had been set for June months before. Three months out, so many big and little details still needed to be addressed. Rouse pushed Bill Finley for plans for the opening and the presentation for the Exhibit Center, which was going to be turned over to Finley for programming in six weeks.


March 13, 1967

No housing for artists or a cultural center got past the thinking stages in the early years, as feasibility compromised the optimums — as Rouse had predicted when he addressed the work group years before. But as this letter to Jimilu Mason (an artist and friend of Rouse’s) points out, it was on the drawing board.


March 3, 1967

With the opening of Columbia just months away, Rouse expressed his concern about filling the position of Director of Columbia Association. The position had been vacant since the sudden death of John Slayton. While Bill Finley was apparently hoping to find someone young to fill the job, the position was soon filled by John Levering, a not-so-young executive from Monumental Life Insurance Company with whom Rouse was familiar. In explaining the perhaps unorthodox appointment, Rouse cited Levering’s clear thinking, good judgment and relationships with people as qualities more important than a “city manager type.”
march 3 image

Winter 1967
The Winter 1967 Columbia newsletter published by Community Research and Development, reported the progress to date — lake construction completed, Merriweather Post Pavilion named, and the lease for the Giant Food store in Wilde Lake secured.

Feb. 21, 1967

John Shallcross, who was a key figure in Columbia’s land acquisition program, took on the position of managing the land once it was acquired. That involved farming, timbering, nursery and other operations. Rouse dubbed him Columbia’s first settler when he purchased property in what would become Columbia.

Feb. 9, 1967
It is often acknowledged that innovative architecture was not of primary importance in Columbia.  Columbia was focused more on social goals, providing a wide range of residential, cultural, recreational, office options, etc. to meet people’s needs. But James Rouse had a significant interest and appreciation in architecture. Among other noted architects with whom Rouse corresponded was William Pereira, who designed Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco.

Jan. 31, 1967

Jim Rouse was very serious about the purpose of making Columbia affordable for a full spectrum of income levels. In 1967, with the recommendation of the Interfaith Task Force and the promise of low-income housing on the horizon, Rouse reaffirmed his belief in a letter to Reverend John Walsh. “I believe that, working together, we may be able to develop serious solutions which will be important to Columbia and perhaps even to the larger problem of adequate housing for low-income families throughout the country.”

Jan. 28, 1967

The opening concert of Merriweather Post Pavilion featured an original piece by noted composer and conductor Morton Gould. Gould’s name is proposed in this letter from the managing director of the National Symphony Orchestra to Wallace Hamilton, The Rouse Company’s director of institutional development. Gould was a prolific composer for Broadway, film, television and orchestra over a span of 40 years.

Jan. 25, 1967

The State Banking Commissioner approved the charter for Columbia Bank and Trust, paving the way for Columbia’s first bank.

 Dec. 31, 1966

The Rouse Company signed an agreement in 1966 stating that it would work with the Howard County Soil Conservation District to prevent soil erosion and misuse of the land and water during construction. As noted in this timeline on April 26, 1966, Rouse was concerned with protecting the environment.
 12-29-16 clipping
 Dec. 16, 1966

Jimilu Mason, an accomplished sculptor from Alexandria, Virginia, attended a White House dinner celebrating the arts during Lyndon Johnson’s term, as noted in a page from Johnson’s daily diary. Mason was considered for a commission of a piece honoring Marjorie Merriweather Post to be placed at the concert pavilion that bears her name. While that sculpture did not happen, Mason was later commissioned to do the Completed Circle fountain that was once a centerpiece at The Mall in Columbia as well as “The Hug,” Columbia’s tribute to Mort Hoppenfield at the Downtown Columbia Lakefront.
white house daily diary

Dec. 7, 1966

Columbia’s project director, William Finley, brings the The Rouse Company Board of Directors up to date on progress in his quarterly report. Construction is well under way, but there is still much to be done to get Columbia ready for its public debut in June 1967. Already completed are two recreational facilities — Hobbit’s Glen Golf Course and the Columbia Horse Center in Oakland Ridge Industrial Park.

 quarterly report

Nov. 27, 1966

Columbia was envisioned as a better way to build a city. This was in the context of crises in American cities and the problems of rebuilding urban America. Jim Rouse was one of many called to testify at a U.S. Senate hearing, where he took the opportunity to talk about the value of comprehensive planning for future growth.


Nov. 17, 1966

The model of Merriweather Post Pavilion was shown to the National Symphony Orchestra board of directors, including Marjorie Merriweather Post and conductor Howard Mitchell, as reported in The Washington Post and in this article from The Baltimore Sun.

 Nov 17 1966 article

Nov. 13, 1966

A Baltimore Sun article reports on the plans for Columbia with the headline of “Columbia to offer home sites.” With construction under way, inquiries about purchasing a lot or house began pouring in. Approximately 400 inquiries had been received by the end of November 1966.

November 13 article

Nov. 3, 1966

William Levitt, the developer of the Levittown developments in New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, as well as the Maryland communities of Bowie, Crofton and Largo, criticized Columbia as “compounding the growth problems crippling American cities.”  Rouse’s response lays out Columbia’s plan.

 November 3 1966

October 26, 1966

Marjorie Merriweather Post was the vice president of the Washington National Symphony Association. In proposing the name of the concert pavilion in Columbia, James Rouse said: “We have been deeply impressed by the magnitude and effectiveness of Mrs. Post’s creative support of the Washington National Symphony … it would be most appropriate to recognize in permanent form what she has done and is continuing to do for the art of music by naming the amphitheater the Merriweather Post Pavilion of Music.” Mrs. Post acknowledged appreciation for the honor in this letter written on her personal stationery.


October 24, 1966

The idea of writing a history of Columbia arose as early as October 1966, before little more than planning and breaking ground had been completed. Jim Rouse wasn’t sure about the idea. “We have a job to do, and if we do it well history will in fact discover it.” But if a written history about Columbia’s founding were to be published, Rouse wanted Stanley Hallett — a consultant for Rouse who worked for the Church Federation of Greater Chicago — to be the author. In the end, their application to the Ford Foundation for grant funding was denied. The idea of a written history at that time was scrapped.


October 6, 1966

Jim Rouse was well known for his vision. For those who worked with him, he was equally known for his attention to detail. Ever looking for little things to make Columbia better, he penned this letter to Bill Finley posing the question of open-air buses to add “gaiety and fun” to bus rides.


October, 1966

With the dam completed in September, Wilde Lake takes shape.


September 1, 1966

In 1963, James Rouse asked this question: “What about the elderly? Should they be segregated in projects or communities, or are they strengthened by encouraging their distribution through the community?” In a letter to Ralph Showalter in 1966, he continued to question the value of segregated housing for the elderly.

showalter image

September 1, 1966

James Rouse testified in March 1966 before the Housing Subcommittee, House Banking and Currency Committee in support of a bill that would expand the FHA mortgage insurance program for privately financed land development to include new communities. In September, Rep. Robert Kastenmeier of Wisconsin asked Rouse some follow-up questions. This letter and Rouse’s response get to the core of Columbia’s goals on mixed income housing.


September 1966

The first formal presentation of Columbia to the public since the zoning presentation was a glossy 32-page brochure, which Rouse told those who had contributed to the planning work was “a responsible statement on some of the problems of urban growth and an appealing picture of Columbia.”

a new city

August 22, 1966

Construction of the dam at Wilde Lake began in July. By Aug. 22, when this picture was taken, work had begun on the concrete section. Construction took place night and day, seven days a week, to take advantage of a dry summer. The dam and the lake were completed by September.

 aug 22 1966_146x150

August 17, 1966

James Rouse’s ideas on public housing — as quoted in “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” by Jane Jacobs — prompted the [Charles] Percy For Senate Committee in Illinois to seek out Rouse’s thoughts on home ownership among low-income families.

aug 17 1966_150x193

August 15, 1966

A small post office was established in Columbia even before Columbia officially was dedicated.  It was located in what is now a private house on Hyla Brook Road in the Birches in what is now Running Brook. The opening was marked with a first day cover, seen here.

 aug 16 1966 img_193

July 14, 1966

Early negotiations with Johns Hopkins Medicine explored innovative ideas for providing comprehensive health care for Columbia’s residents. Rouse spells this out for Jim Anderson of Connecticut General Life Insurance Company, which would ultimately be a partner when the Columbia Medical Plan was established.

 july 14 1966

July 8, 1966

With the opening of Columbia and the music pavilion about a year away, the suggestion of honoring National Symphony Orchestra board member Marjorie Merriweather Post was raised by Robert Rogers, the orchestra’s manager.

 july 8 1966

July 1966

Bulldozers began clearing and transforming a low­lying vale into Wilde Lake in July 1966. Dedication of the lake, which marked the official beginning of Columbia, took place 11 months later in June 1967. (Photo by Rodney R.R. Boyce)

 july 1966

June 3, 1966

George Packer Berry was a member of the Columbia Work Group. This letter from James Rouse summarized the progress on planning up to this point and called for a meeting to discuss future developments. It was also sent to others in the medical, religious and educational arena that had been working on planning. As the building process was beginning, Rouse wanted to make sure that the ideas and programs discussed by the work group were being applied to the actual plans.

 june 3 1966
June 1966

The architects and planners at work: Mort Hoppenfeld, Dick Stauffer, and Bob Tennenbaum in the Cross Keys office.  (Photo by Rodney Boyce)
 june 1966
Spring 1966

Columbia was a newsletter published two or three times a year for two years by Community Research and Development and then The Rouse Company. It was distributed locally and sent out to business and institutional prospects as well as others interested in the Columbia project. This second newsletter included details about the early buildings, Hobbit’s Glen Golf Course, and the program to supply the 1,000 street and place names.
spring 1966

May 26, 1966

The business of building continued but Rouse still had the opportunity to think about the possibilities and engage others when the occasion arose. In a letter to William Greenough at Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America, a financial backer of Columbia, Rouse thought big about establishing a different kind of college: “We could organize a curriculum designed to produce graduates with unique competence to take important positions of leadership in our urban centers.”

 may 26 1966

May 17, 1966

Affordable housing was of concern to Columbia planners. The question James Rouse asked in 1966 is still being asked today within the context of the Downtown Columbia plan: “Might it not be possible for us to do something unique and special in meeting the needs of Howard County for housing for lower income professional workers?” wrote Rouse as he mused about the idea that Columbia should show, from the beginning, the determination to provide housing for all the people who work there. 

 may 17 1966

April 26, 1966

Before environmental sustainability was popular, it was Columbia’s goal to preserve and enhance the land. This letter to Senator Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day, is in support of the Ecological Research and Surveys bill.

 april 26 1966_160

April 13, 1966

Not all of the ideas that were floated for Columbia made it off the drawing board and onto the ground. In an internal memo to Wm. Purnell Hall (director of business for Industrial Sales and Development), Rouse passes along the idea for a small airport in Columbia.

 april 13 1966_160

April 4, 1966

Victor Gruen was a pioneer in the design of shopping malls in the United States. He and James Rouse first met in the 1950s and the two worked closely on Cherry Hill Mall, which Rouse developed and Gruen designed and was touted as a “Design for a better outdoors indoors” by The Architectural Record. The two continued to work together, but in 1966 Gruen expressed disappointment in Columbia’s plan for Town Center. In this letter, Rouse defended the plan while also giving insight into the original goals for Columbia’s downtown.

 april 4 1966_160

March 19, 1966

Libby Rouse, Jim Rouse’s first wife, was a driving force behind creating the Family Life Institute.  She worked with Wallace Hamilton, director of institutional development for The Rouse Company, and drafted the first ideas for the institute. The ideas were incorporated into The Family Life Center in Wilde Lake which is now part of the Family and Children’s Services of Central Maryland agency office in Wilde Lake.

march 19 1966

March 8, 1966

Columbia’s planners thought big with their ideas, one of which was bringing a Major League Baseball team to Howard County. This memo to Rouse from Dick Anderson — The Rouse Company’s general manager for Columbia — detailed some thoughts on building a domed sports arena. The idea intrigued Rouse, who subsequently suggested a meeting to brainstorm ideas with Jake Embry, president of the original Baltimore Colts football team and owner of the Baltimore Clippers ice hockey team. If such a meeting took place, then nothing much happened afterward. The idea came up again in 1970 with Baltimore Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom.

march 8 1966

February 22, 1966

The business of building Columbia is in full gear by the end of February 1966. Preliminary subdivision plans for Wilde Lake, engineering on the lakes and major road system, and the important agreement with the Howard County Metropolitan Commission for the design of the sewer system are among the items that William Finley, project director, reports to the Howard Research and Development Board of Directors. The five-page report illustrates the intense workload during this time.

feb 22 1966

February 21, 1966

Wilde Lake and the village of Wilde Lake are named for Frazar Wilde, chairman of the Board of Connecticut General Insurance Co, which was the major investor in the Columbia project. In this letter, Rouse informs Wilde of their intention to honor him in this way and acknowledges Wilde’s contribution.

feb 21 1966

February 14, 1966

Jim Ryan, pictured here speaking at the 2014 celebration of Jim Rouse’s life as Columbia Archives marked what would have been Rouse’s 100th birthday. Rouse and Ryan met on Feb. 14, 1966, and Ryan signed on to be the first homebuilder in the new town. It was the beginning of a longstanding relationship between the two men and the seed that led to Ryan’s commitment to Columbia and the highly successful Ryland Homes.

february 14

Winter 1966

Columbia was a newsletter published two or three times a year for two years by Community Research and Development and then The Rouse Company. It was distributed locally and sent out to business and institutional prospects as well as others interested in the Columbia project.

winter 1966

January 29, 1966

A folk dance theater for Columbia proposed by famed dancer and choreographer Agnes de Mille was but one of several ideas Columbia planners pursued in order to provide for a rich collection of cultural opportunities. This letter from de Mille confirms her attendance at a Feb. 10 meeting to discuss the project with Wallace Hamilton (director of institutional development for Howard Research and Development) and Charles Kent (director of The Peabody Institute in Baltimore).

january 29

January 26, 1966

The task of naming Columbia’s streets was already underway when this article appeared. But the headline — “Unusual Street Names Sought For Columbia — led many area residents to submit names for the community. Many of the names submitted were even more unusual than those ultimately chosen by Columbia’s planners, including Skunk’s Misery, Huckleberry Hill and Caesar Circle.

january 26

January 19, 1966

James Rouse had once tried to bring Joseph Hirshhorn’s famed art collection to Baltimore. When that didn’t work, Rouse attempted to woo Hirshhorn to locate his collection not in a single building, but rather throughout Columbia.

“Might this not be an opportunity to infuse the population of a new city with great art in a way our country has never known?” Rouse wrote in this letter to Charles Parkhurst, director of the Baltimore Museum of Art, who had worked with Rouse on the earlier attempt. “If these ideas ignite a spark of interest, we would be happy to discuss them further with you or Mr. Hirshhorn.”

january 19

January 11, 1966

When James Rouse brought together the consultants working in 1963 on making Columbia a reality, he had told them to worry less about whether the idea could become a reality and rather to focus on the ideals of what Columbia should be. It would be up to the staff to make the ideas work with the economics. Rouse makes that clear in this memo to staff, noting that attention must be paid to the economic model and the inevitability that “we will be faced with costs that we have not anticipated.”

 jan 11

December 26, 1965

Library planning got a lot of attention in the early days of planning. A study of a library system was commissioned and performed by C. Walter Stone, director of libraries at University of Pittsburgh, and a report was issued in December 1965. The general reaction to the report, according to Wallace Hamilton, was that “it was a fascinating collection of ideas and certainly would have applicability to Columbia about 1985. But in the meantime, the planners in the company wanted evidence that some kind of a library was going to be on site when they opened the first village. So in effect, library development proceeded down two tracks.”


December 14, 1965

The Columbia Park and Recreation Association (aka Columbia Association) was incorporated in December 1965 after due consideration of ways for Columbia to provide the most complete range of services and facilities for people living and working in the new city. Thought was given to incorporation of a municipality and for creation of a multi-purpose special taxing district, but in the end it was decided to rely on deed-and-agreement property assessment, an idea that was an established form of community development used in places such as Roland Park, Guilford and other parts of the Baltimore region.

 december 14

December 2, 1965

The music pavilion was just one of the cultural amenities explored for Columbia. The Washington Post summed up the other ideas being pursued. An extensive collection of correspondence with local and national leaders in the arts community are included in the three volumes of Cultural Development compiled by Wallace Hamilton, HRD’s Director of Institutional Development, giving insight into the big ideas pursued — albeit never realized.

 december 2

November 19, 1965

Following months of negotiations, the National Symphony Orchestra announced plans to perform its summer schedule in a new pavilion to be built in Columbia. It would still be several months before final terms made the plan a reality and the pavilion got a name.

 nov 19

October 26, 1965

Thinking big is a theme that pops up frequently in Rouse’s correspondence. In a letter to Carroll Rosenbloom, the first owner of the Baltimore Colts, he reaches out to discuss the possibility of a major stadium in Columbia.

 oct 26

October 11, 1965

With Columbia planning proceeding and submission of plans on the horizon, Rouse became concerned that streets, lakes, places needed names and a naming system

 oct 11

September 20, 1965

In the early planning for Columbia, much work was done to establish a Columbia Center to coordinate the programs and research that would address the issues of education, welfare, health, cultural activities, recreation, communications and a variety of other processes. Correspondence with nationally recognized experts speak to the big ideas that were put forth. One such letter is to August Heckscher, who was serving as President Kennedy’s Special Consultant on the Arts while simultaneously directing the Twentieth Century Fund of New York.

 sept 20

August 10, 1965

News of the long‐awaited approval for zoning is sent to Rouse via telegram while he  was vacationing at his camp at Ahmic Lake in Canada. One line says it all.

 aug 10

June 21, 1965

Zoning notices were posted. While final approval was still months away, this article  indicates progress.

 jun 21

May 24, 1965

Rouse joined an impressive roster of speakers at the White House Conference on  Natural Beauty held at the State Department. “We have not considered ‘beauty’ as  such in our planning of Columbia,” he said during the panel on The New Suburbia.  “The fact is that beauty is free. If you really plan for man, and plan to produce the  best possible community for man, then beauty comes naturally. We can achieve  beauty in our suburbs if we make up our minds to do it. We need to insist upon  comprehensive planning to create community development corporations capable of  executing a plan, to adopt a new national policy toward land.” The conference led to  a report to President Johnson and ultimately to the Highway Beautification Act,  which was signed into law on Oct. 22, 1965.

 may 24 1965

May 7, 1965

After a week of preparation for presentations to Connecticut General and zoning  hearings, Jim Rouse thanks his team for the tremendous effort. “We have many,  many more hurdles before Columbia becomes a reality, but you have certainly done  a big job in bringing it so successfully to the threshold on which we now stand.”

 may 7

March 10, 1965

The Baltimore Evening Sun published this article noting that the general citizenry of  Howard County was in favor of the plan but that the county commissioners were up  against a political problem, as they had been elected on a platform stressing  antagonism toward high‐density development.

 may 10 1965

March 8, 1965

The Columbia team knew it was making history with the planning process for  Columbia. Wallace Hamilton was retained to record the history with the idea of  publishing a book. This letter introduces Hamilton to Sumner Putnam, who in 1971  published “Columbia and the new Cities” by  author Gurney Breckenfeld with  cooperation from The Rouse Company.

 may 8 1965

February 18, 1965

Once the land acquisitions were complete, the process of zoning and the details of  sewer, water, schools, etc., got the full attention of the Columbia team. A detailed  account was given to Connecticut General in this letter from Rouse.

 feb 18 1965

January 19, 1965

Lewis Nippard, counsel to the Howard County Board of Commissioners, delivered an  opinion of the proposed amendment to the Howard County Zoning Regulations in  which he raised a number of objections. Rouse got to work quickly to resolve the  issues.

 jan 19 1965

January 12, 1965

The initial land acquisitions were complete in January 1965. Columbia Archives created this video showing the timeline of the purchases of the almost 15,000 acres.

 jan 12

January 11, 1965

The House & Home article prompted a letter from Don Michael, facilitator of the  Work Group, lamenting the fact that his role in the Columbia process was not  properly cited. Rouse’s empathetic reply is an example not only of his attention to  people’s feelings but also his own discomfort of being given all the credit for  Columbia.

 January 11 1965

December 16, 1964

House & Home ran an article in its December 1964 issue “titled “Can these thinkers help put across a vast new town?” Rouse found the article “thoughtful and perceptive.”

 dec 16

November 16, 1964

“It is tremendously important that the initial development of Columbia be successful,” wrote Rouse referring to residential construction. He noted certain characteristics that should be looked for in builders.

 nov 16

November 11, 1964

On the day of the formal announcement letters were sent to all the members of the Columbia Work Group noting that their work was the “most significant part of the Columbia story.”

 nov 11

November 11, 1964

A letter to Charles E. Miller, Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, introduced the formal presentation of the Columbia plan to the Howard County Commissioners on November 11, 1964.

 nov 11-2

November 9, 1964

“In this memo to everyone in the company Jim Rouse explains the first week’s marketing events for Columbia’s presentation to Howard County.

 nov 9 1964

October 23, 1964

The River Hill Game Preserve became a popular place to bring political, business and sports figures. Rouse files include letters from U.S. Senator Daviel Brewster and Maryland Delegate Ted Warfield, Other important guests include: Baltimore Orioles player Dave McNally; and retired Vice Admiral E.S. Land.

 oct 23 1964

September 24, 1964

Joyce Hall, founder of Hallmark Cards, introduced Rouse to Walt Disney in1962. As Columbia got closer to reality Rouse reached out to Disney exploring possible connections. A meeting was scheduled between Rouse and Disney’s Donn Tatum for October 13.

 sep 24 1964

September 22, 1964

Meeting the needs of people was at the core of the planning for Columbia. Rouse asks his key team, “Isn’t it worth considering the desirability of making some test of what prospective residents might really consider to be important?” . . . Horseback riding, for example, might not have general appeal, but is powerfully appealing to those who care about it . . . Similarly, we may find that some things (tennis for example) . . . might in fact have very limited appeal . . “

 sep 22 1964

September 4, 1964

Nelson Foote, a sociologist, was working at General Electric when he was tapped to join the Columbia Work Group. Jim Rouse was impressed by an article that Foote had written in 1953 entitled “Love”. Rouse had his own story about love that he recounted in an interview with Scott Kramer in 1986 when describing the first meeting of the work group.”

sep 4 1964

August 27, 1964

Rouse believed in thinking big. In this letter to General Motors, and in a similar one to Ford, he asks “Don’t you have a positive interest in seeing that this community is planned to the best knowledge that is available with respect to traffic, safety, and over-all effective use of the automobile?”

 aug 27 1964

August 20, 1964

“Can’t we help people grow as individuals and become more secure, loving and effective?” Rouse asked Dr. Leonard Duhl, a member of the Work Group and an authority on human relationships.

 aug 20 1964

August 5, 1964

A hint that there was a delicate balance between providing the best possible environment for people and creating a company town is evident in this exchange between Rouse and his brother Willard. “We must continue to thoughtfully find how we can use our leadership to bring about the best possible environment for the people in our new community without sapping their initative and becoming the “Great White Father” of the community.”

 aug 5 1964

July 3, 1964

Always looking for businesses to move to Columbia Rouse gets a lead from his son and reminds others in the company there is no lead too small

 july 3 1964

June 15, 1964

Finding a name for the city proved more difficult than many more important aspects of the planning but Rouse was content to leave it unnamed until firm plans were developed. Letter to a friend acknowledges her suggestion of “Karma.”

june 15 1964

May 15, 1964

In 1963, the U.S. Congress approved a building prospectus to construct a new building for the Patent Office that would be located in Howard or Anne Arundel County to meet the administration’s policy of decentralization of government agencies while being near enough to Washington to conduct business. Rouse reports to Connecticut General that a site is being offered in Columbia. Ultimately the idea of moving the Patent Office out of Washington was scrapped.

 may 15 1964

May 4, 1964

Transportation is still a challenge in Columbia but in 1964 Rouse was investigating solutions. He responded to Chrysler Motor’s “fishing expedition” about personal transportation equipment noting that planning “involves a very careful attempt to seprate people and automobiles.”

 may 4 1964

May 1, 1964

In a memo to William Finley and Mort Hoppenfeld Rouse puts forth what he call an unmementous idea but one he suggests might be the “most vital single factor in the growth and development of the ‘good environment’.”

 may 1 1964

April 28, 1964

Ted Warfield declined the invitation to serve on the game farm advisory board. A follow up letter from Rouse to Warfield who was a Maryland State Delegate, discusses the question of Route 29 expansion.

 april 28 1964

April 17, 1964

In March 1964, in the midst of intensive work on developing the plan for Columbia, HRD obtained a license to operated a regulated game preserve on 450 acres of land it had purchased near Trotter Road. Rouse reached out to prominent Howard County residents to serve as an advisory committee.

 april 17 1964

April 8, 1964

Wallace Hamilton, in his role of “historian” prepared Interim Memos reporting on the Work Group meetings. This one is a general history of the origins and functions of the Work Group.

 april 8 1964

March 31, 1964

Phillip Hiss was well known for his ideas about the relationship of architecture and schools. Rouse reached out to him asking for his “critical analysis of what we are undertaking, and your ideas on the best approach to school design and construction.”

 March 31, 1964

March 25, 1964

It was extremely important to gain support for the Columbia idea by communicating with the citizens of Howard County. Rouse agreed to answer questions in an open column in the Howard County Times, as is explained in the text box preceding a story written by Times editor Jean Holmes.

 march 25 1964

March 16, 1964

Jim Rouse’s spirituality and the part it played in the development of Columbia can be seen in this letter from Rouse to Reverend Lyle Buck of the First Presbyterian Church of Howard County, “We have an exciting opportunity … to find new ways in which God can become central to our seven-day-a-week life.”

 March 16, 1964

March 11, 1964

Wallace Hamilton wrote Interim Memos to capture the planning process.
On the subject of industrial development he points out initial work on the
economic projections and the assumption that “40% of the new city’s
labor force would be employed within the city” and other details of the
economic analyses prepared by Washington-based Robert Gladstone and Associates.

 March 11, 1964

March 6, 1964

A four-page memo details the progress of the Work Group and the physical plan.

“Henry Bain, our public administration consultant, has been attempting to develop governmental arrangements which would allow us as developers to plan and develop creatively, both in terms of plant and program.”

 March 6, 1964

February 14, 1964

James Rouse, Bill Finley, Mort Hoppenfeld and others spent many nights
attending community meetings to share information about the goals and
plans for Columbia. This memo to Finley ensuring they were all on the
same page when answering questions is an example of Rouse’s attention
to detail and leadership style.

February 14, 1964

Gordon and Mary Cosby and the Church of the Saviour in Washington DC
became very important to Rouse personally and in the history of the
religious community in Columbia, including the founding of the
Kittamaqundi Community.

  february 14 1964

February 10, 1964

The memo from Joseph Merchant, United Church of Christ Board for Homeland Ministries, outlines the basis for religious planning in Columbia.  Note the hand-written scrawl — “Let’s not flub this one.”

 February 10, 1964

February 7, 1964

Marvin Thomas, Director of Howard County Library, was brought into
the planning process. He was enthusiastic about the opportunity to bring
new ideas and technology to the system.

 February 7, 1964

February 7, 1964

Rouse understood the ground-breaking, history-making work the company
was doing in creating Columbia. Wallace Hamilton was hired as a
“writer-historian to keep a chronological record on all phases of development.
“Official Personnel Bulletin announced the appointment.

 February 7, 1964

January 28, 1964

A suggested agenda for a meeting of clergy and others as part of the early
discussions on planning for religion from Don Michael, the facilitator of the
Work Group, met with an “Amen” from Rouse.

 jan 28 1964

December 31, 1963

Building relationships with Howard County was very important to Rouse. He spoke at community meetings and arranged meetings with government officials and employees. A letter to E. Holmes Hawkins, Clerk to the County Commissioners extended an invitation to attend a luncheon to Hawkins and other County department heads.

 dec 31 1963

December 27, 1963

While land purchases continued the real work of planning began as evidenced in a memo from Project Director Bill Finley to Rouse detailing what had been accomplished to date.

  dec 27 1963

December 18, 1963

Most of the early land purchases were from individuals but there were some deals with developers. One was Donleigh Development Corp. which settled on the five lots on December 18, 1963.

 dec 18 1963

December 12, 1963

Thrilling Gamble was how Rouse described the swift land acquisition to a group of 200 citizens at Ellicott City Junior High on Dec. 5. The event was the first of many community meetings to explain — and dispel fears — about the new town project.
[Note: Article is slightly incomplete.]

  december 12 1963

December 3, 1963

Rouse drew inspiration and learned from many people while formulating his own ideas for a complete community. One such person was Philip Klutznick, a one-time federal housing official and a partner in American Community Builders which built Park Forest, Illinois in 1949, a city with goals to provide a complete and enduring community much like Columbia. Rouse’s letter to Klutznick addresses some questions of the profitability of Columbia making it clear that while this was important it “should not be regarded as a limitation, or a suffocating influence.”

 dec 3 1963

November 19, 1963

Columbia planning continued to take up Jim Rouse’s time in the days following the first meeting of the Work Group. A page from his office calendar shows an early morning meeting with Don Michael the Work Group Facilitator and an afternoon helicopter ride over Howard County.

 nov 19 1963

November 18, 1963

James Rouse met John “Jimmy” James, of England’s Ministry of Housing & Local Government in Basildon, one of England’s new towns during his European vacation in the summer of 1963. Rouse shares with James his aspirations for Columbia writing, “we are continuing to chase the kinds of questions that I raised in my memo to you. Perhaps the chase is futile – but we are full of determination about it . . . “

 nov 18 1963

November 15, 1963

Connecticut General Life Insurance Company (CG), as a partner in the Columbia venture,was kept well-informed about the progress of the venture.  Rouse wrote a long letter to Harvey Moger, an officer of CG once the announcement was public. “Now that we are ‘out in the open’ , Rouse opened. The letter continued with the details of what had already been accomplished and what lie ahead.

 nov 15 1963

November 14, 1963

The first meeting of the Work Group began on the evening of Thursday, Nov. 14. Jim Rouse outlined the challenge and purpose of the project at the Belvedere Hotel in Baltimore.

 nov 14 1963

November 7, 1963

A small article in the Nov. 7, 1963 issue of The Central Maryland News announces a hearing on Water, Sewerage Definition and notes that “The proposal takes on added significance since disclosure last week of ‘planned community’.”

 nov 7 1963

November 4, 1963

Jim Rouse had more questions than answers when he announced the company’s intention
to build a city. He believed that the traditional tools for planning were not enough to plan for the needs of people. And so, before the planners and the architects got to work on fine details a group of “thinkers” was convened. They were dubbed “The Work Group.” The first meeting was November 14 – 16, 1963. Preparatory memos to the Work Group from James Rouse and Mort Hoppenfeld outline the goals and objectives.

 nov 4 1963

November 1, 1963

The color sections on this map indicate the properties acquired between November 1962 and the October 30 announcement.

 november 1 1963

October 30, 1963

A four-page press release identified Howard Research and Development, (a partially owned subsidiary of Community Research and Development and Connecticut General), as purchaser of 14,100 acres ending the speculation and rumors that had been gripping rural Howard County.

 oct 30 1963

October 29, 1963

James Rouse hints about the Columbia project in this short note to J. R. James who showed him around England’s New Towns during Rouse’s summer visit.

 oct 29 1963

October 4, 1963

While land acquisition for Columbia was in the final stages development of Cross Keys, a small scale planned community in Baltimore, commenced.

 oct 4 1963

September 20, 1963

The beginning of the strong relationship between James Rouse, the vision behind Columbia, and Mort Hoppenfeld, the man Rouse chose to help execute it is evident in a letter from Hoppenfeld written upon his return from his exploratory trip to Europe.

 sep 20 1963

July 26, 1963

James Rouse embarks for England and begins his family vacation which is also sprinkled with the work of examining new towns “for the purpose of employing this information in the planning and development of 14,000 acres of land acquired in Howard County, MD.”

 jul 26 1963

June 26, 1963

More than 30 properties were settled by the end of June 1963. Land was being purchased as deals could be made but the boundaries of Columbia were beginning to become evident. Colored areas indicate purchases through the end of June.

 jun 26 1963

June 10, 1963

Jim Rouse’s connection with Connecticut General Life Insurance Company went back to 1941. In a letter to CG’s Secretary Robert Fowler, Rouse spells out their relationship and his gratefulness for the company’s assistance. He ends with “You will continue to be with us in the years to come in the standards and practices you have helped form.”

 jun 10 1963

March 27, 1963

In the spring of 1963 Jim Rouse was planning a trip to Europe to not only vacation with his family but to research new towns in England, Scotland and Sweden. Rouse asked his friend Edmund Bacon, the Executive Director of the Philadelphia Planning Commission for recommendations of places to visit.

 mar 27 1963

February 28, 1963

Land acquisition picks up in February. Realtor Robert Moxley, encouraged by his successful sale of the 1039 acres in the Cedar Lane area, began to assemble additional parcels for sale in the same vicinity. Feb. 28 is the date of settlement of 12 additional acres purchased from Katie Mae Kahler and 68 acres from a neighbor, Clarence E. Bassler. In due course two other Bassler tracts would be acquired. The Ellicott City engineering firm of Purdum & Jeschke was retained to draw up the plats.

 feb 28 1963

January 10, 1963

More than 9 months before the official announcement of Columbia, Jim Rouse hints of building a new city in a letter to Ralph Lazarus, President of Federated Department Stores. Rouse was responding to a speech by Lazarus that examined the challenges of the growth of the suburbs. The subject clearly resonated with Rouse and provides valuable insight into the development of Columbia.

 jan 10 1963

January 3, 1963

Connecticut General commits $18 million for land acquisition ensuring the feasibility of Columbia. In 1967 Rouse, left, recognizes the support of Connecticut General’s Chairman, Frazar Wilde, right, with the naming of Columbia’s first lake.

 jan 3 1963

January 2, 1963

Bill Finley assumed responsibility for the Village of Cross Keys. The mixed-use development on Falls Road in Baltimore County was developed in the early 1960s and is in some ways a precursor to Columbia.

 jan 2 1963

November 26, 1962

On this day 50 years ago Bill Finley officially started work at Community Research and Development, a Rouse company. While it wasn’t included in his job title at the time, the planning and development of Columbia was clearly why he was brought on board.

 nov 26 1962

November 3, 1962

Today in 1962 R.G. Harper Carroll, Katie Mae Kahler, Robert Moxley, and Ester M. Wix settled on the sale of their combined properties that constituted the first purchase for what would become Columbia. It was a total of 1,039 acres just west of Cedar Lane in what is now Harper’s Choice.  The land was sold to the straw company Howard Estates, Inc. and later transferred to  Howard Research and Development. Come into Columbia Archives to get a better look at the 55″ x 41″ plat detailing the property and this legal announcement that outlined all the land purchases – the first purchase is highlighted.

 nov 3 1962

October 30, 1962

James Rouse met with Connecticut General Life Insurance Company to discuss funds
for the land acquisition.

 oct 30 1962

October 28, 1962

This press release announces Bill Finley’s new position at Community Research and Development and has a little background on CRD.

 oct 28 1962

October 25, 1962

In a memo dated Oct. 25, 1962 James Rouse informed  the directors of Community Research and Development of the hiring of Bill Finley and the intention for him to be
involved in the “plan for a ‘New City’.”

 oct 25 1962

October 15, 1962

James Rouse sent a letter to Connecticut General Life Insurance Company outlining the idea of a new city and proposing that CG provide the funds for the land acquisition.

 oct 15 1962

April, 1962

Mel Berman, a CRD board member, saw a sign advertising 1, 039 acres of land for sale and visited Robert Moxley to inquire about the status of the property. This photo was taken months later.

  apr 1962