Bike tour highlights history

Old buildings contrast with more modern look of Columbia

April 19, 2001|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Brady Bunch-era split-level homes can pass for historic in a town as young as Columbia.

But here and there, tucked beside the suburban cul-de-sacs and shopping centers, traces of "pre-Columbian" history can be found.

At one playground, children climb over the stone remains of an 1850s house, where a Confederate colonel's wife hid as Union troops looted her manor.

The manor, built in 1811, stands in the center of town. Shoppers on the way to The Mall in Columbia buzz by every day without knowing it.

Beside one of Columbia's three man-made lakes sits a trio of 200-year-old stone houses, two connected by an underground passageway.

Barbara Kellner, director of the Columbia Archives, has strung these and other sites together into a bicycle tour that she plans to use Saturday to remind residents about life in Howard County long before 1967, when developer James W. Rouse started carving up farmland for his planned community.

"I think the contrast is terrific," said Kellner, referring to the relics sprinkled around Columbia.

"The reason that the Rouse Co. left a lot of this stuff was really to give the new town some links to its past and kind of root it in the area, so it's not just plunked down in the middle of Howard County," she said. "There's always that connection to Howard County's past."

The 15-mile "BikeAbout" tour, which Kellner hopes to make an annual event, is intended to draw attention to local elections and Columbia's vast system of bike paths in addition to Howard County history. Signs reminding residents to vote in Saturday's Columbia Council and village board elections will be posted along the way.

The tour will begin at 9 a.m. at the People Tree at Lake Kittamaqundi. Registration will be open until 10 a.m. Saturday. No fee will be charged to participate. About 150 people have signed up.

First stop on the tour is Oakland Manor, a mansion built in 1811.

The stately house is in Town Center, but visitors to the town's busy mall area might never know it because it is set back from Little Patuxent Parkway.

Owned by Confederate Col. George Gaither during the Civil War, the manor was ransacked by Union troops while Gaither was in Europe trying to rally support for the Confederate cause. Today, the Columbia Association owns the building, which is rented for events and used for Town Center office space.

Other historic sites include a church built in 1809, a 19th- century stone barn and the three stone houses built about 200 years ago on what is now the shore of man-made Wilde Lake. A tunnel connects the largest of the three to what may have been slave quarters.

Some of the stops could be considered historic only in 34-year-old Columbia: Lake Elkhorn, which was created in 1974; two 1940s barns preserved as part of Oakland Mills Village Center; and a large rock on the shore of Wilde Lake with plaques honoring two men critical to the creation of Columbia - Rouse and Frazar Wilde, former chairman of the board of Connecticut General Life Insurance Co.

The company financed Rouse's project. The lake and the Village of Wilde Lake are named in Wilde's honor.

One of the most interesting attractions blends the old and new.

A playground on Rain Dream Hill incorporates the stone ruins of Bleak House, where Gaither's wife, Rebecca Gaither, hid as Union troops raided Oakland Manor.

"We sort of built this city up over what was rural country," said Warren Raymond, the Columbia Association's assistant director for open space management. "There's a lot of history here that we just sort of drive by every day and don't see."

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