Columbia, Maryland

Columbia, MD is a created city built by James Rouse and the Rouse Company. It was built on farm land in Howard County halfway between Baltimore, MD and Washington DC. Rouse is hailed as a visionary and a great person but not everything done always met the smell test.

My cousin and aunt (great aunt actually) had a farm in Ellicott City and what many people now would consider part of Columbia. I remember going there as a kid and having lemonade on the back brick patio sitting on nice cool spring metal chairs that were very comfortable. Then we would go and see the horses and visit the barn that was teeming with cats. They didn’t have much of a mice or rat problem.

One incident I will never forget. I was running through a field and stopped abruptly just in time. There was a large spider web inches from where I had managed to stop. I has almost run right through it. In the center was the biggest spider I had ever seen. It was over an inch long and the body had yellow and black markings and when you added in the legs it was several inches across. It was a common garden spider, an orb weaver. And no this isn’t a fish story. I looked it up and that is how big they are.

Well, when you build a city in the middle of farm land, the roads can’t handle the traffic so the roads in the area were being widened and new ones were being built. I am guessing the builders never had to pay their fair share of what it cost the county and the state to do all that road work and other infrastructure work. But that is a common problem not unique to Columbia.

Although my aunt and cousin fought it, they put a road through part of their farm. They were convinced that someone had been paid off to put the road through their property since they were fighting the Rouse company. I tend to doubt that one.

Once I was older I found out more about the situation. There were salesmen for the Rouse Company that came around and made offers to buy properties. They treated my aunt and cousin like two little old ladies who weren’t very bright and didn’t have two nickels to rub together. Wrong. They were incredibly bright and well read. The salesmen tried to tempt them by saying, think of what you could do once you sell your land, you could travel to Europe and other exotic locations. This was not an enticement. More of an insult. My aunt and cousin had plenty of money to travel when they wanted to and they had.

They also paid for lawyers to help out neighbors to fight the Rouse Company. There were several with apple orchards who finally gave up and sold. Condos and apartments had been built next to their properties and the kids would come in and steal the apples. Because of the theft their profit margins were down and they decided to sell.

When James Rouse died my cousin was so pleased with herself that she had outlived her nemesis. When my cousin died we found the check for the land that was claimed by eminent domain for when the road was put through their property. My aunt and cousin had never cashed it they had such strong feelings.

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