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Monday, February 17, 2014

Howard County land grap

     This week I attended the second session that the Columbia Archives held to discuss the events that led to the development of Columbia 50 years ago.  This was the second in a three part series to talk about the acquisition of land and early development of Columbia.   As the map above shows the land purchases that were made 50 years ago were in a patchwork fashion.  This was a deliberate strategy to disguise what Rouse was doing.  If all the purchases had been linked together some smart property owners would have seen where the purchases were headed and the price to purchase land would have escalated.  The original offers for land were in the $400-$600 an acre range but some of the holdout owners were able to get as much as $1200 an acre or more.  Of course all of this would not have been possible if Jim Rouse had not been able to convince Frazar B. Wilde the Chairman of the Board of Connecticut General Insurance Company to fund the land purchases.  Connecticut General had funded some of other Rouse Company projects and they saw little risk in funding the land purchases for the planned community.  They recognized that even if Rouse's plans for Columbia were not successful the value of this land between Baltimore and Washington DC would only go up.  Somebody would what the land for development.  At this time the Washington DC metropolitan area had the 3rd highest population growth rates of all metropolitan areas in the United States and Baltimores metropolitan growth rate was number seven.

    Rouse was assisted in the purchase of the land for Columbia from Robert Moxley a young real estate salesman who had listed some land in the area of the present Hobbits Glen.  From this original purchase of 1,000 acres Mr. Moxley put together the purchase of a number of additional farms for Columbia.  Many of the farmers who sold land for Columbia were able to buy larger farms in western Howard County or Carroll County.  
     Mr. Moxley's involvement in the land purchases certainly helped overcome some of the concerns about the land purchases. His father was one of the Howard County Commissioners.  In 1962 three Republican commissioners had been elected on a slow growth platform.  Rouse had his work cut out for himself in convincing these conservative commissioners that development was inevitable and that his plan for development was the best one for how this development played out.
     Some of the larger land owners in the Columbia area were the most important to convince to sell.  Isadore Gudelsky was the owner of Contee Sand and Gravel Company that owned land in the area of Route 29 where Town Center is located..  He was a person who bought land but rarely sold land but his landholdings were key as they existed in the center of the planned community.  Mr. Moxley offered Mr Gudelsky $1.75 million for his land and Mr. Gudelsky knowing about the other land purchases counter offered with $4 million.  The final agreement for the land purchase was made on a paper napkin at the old Friendship Airport as Mr. Gudelsky was ready to board a plane.
     Another large land owner was Kingdon Gould of the famous Gould family.  This is the family of Jay Gould who was a railroad developer and speculator from the 1800's.   Kingdon had been an ambassador and real estate developer in the 1960's with extensive land holdings in Howard County.  He owned the Kings Contrivance Restaurant and much of the land of the future Kings Contrivance Village.  Many meetings of the early development of Columbia were held at the Kings Contrivance Restaurant. 
     The final large landowner was Oliver Goldsmith who owned a horse farm and golf course in the area of Allview Golf Course.  Like the land that Mr. Gudelsky owned the land owned by Mr. Goldsmith was strategically located in the center of the planned community and cost more that other parcels of land.
    By October 1963 Mr. Rouse had accumulated over 14,000 acres of land and was ready to publically announce his plans to develop the planned community of Columbia.
   The last session in this series is today at 2 pm at Slayton House and will discuss the various people that Rouse brought together to plan for how the different aspects of the new community would develop.



Jessie Newburn said...

What a great wrap-up and very helpful! Thanks, Duane.

Jessie said...

What a great wrap-up and very helpful! Thanks, Duane.