History of Historic Oakland
When Jim Rouse was planning Columbia he took special pains to preserve some of Columbia’s historic buildings such as Dorsey Manor, the stone house at Wilde Lake, the Barn at Oakland Mills, Oliver’s Carriage House… and Oakland, one of the oldest buildings in Howard County. Rouse wanted to make sure that the people of Columbia understood that the city had roots that must be cherished and protected. To that end, the Columbia Association undertook the renovation of Oakland, also known as Oakland Manor, in 1986. Through the careful guidance of Michael Trostel, a fellow of the American Institute of Architecture, Oakland’s beauty has emerged. Today Oakland is managed by the Town Center Community Association.
The area surrounding Oakland was originally surveyed by the Honourable John Dorsey in 1688. Before Howard County was formed, the 1100 acre tract of land known as Felicity was part of Upper Anne Arundel County. Two houses stood on the property, one of log and stone, and the other of log.
Mrs. John (Deborah) Sterrett, a widow, inherited the land from her father’s family, the Ridgelys. When Mrs. Sterrett died, Felicity went to her son, Charles, who changed his surname to Ridgely in 1790 to inherit the estate of his uncle. In 1811, then a Speaker of Maryland’s House of Delegates, Charles Sterrett Ridgely, constructed Oakland as a country home to supplement his town home in Baltimore. Originally built in the federal style by Abraham Lerew, a Baltimore housewright, Oakland is now a blend of the Federal, Greek Revival and Colonial Revival periods.
Two years before his death, Charles Sterrett Ridgely sold Oakland for $47,000 to Robert Oliver, a wealthy merchant from Baltimore. The estate was given to Robert’s son, Thomas, to use as a summer home. At this time, the estate comprised 567 acres, about half of its original size. The Olivers purchased nearby tracts to increase the holdings to 775 acres.
The Oliver family owned Oakland for about 13 years, before advertising it for sale in the Baltimore American on September 12, 1838. George Riggs Gaither bought it in November for $50,459.95. Gaither raised and trained a squadron of cavalry at Oakland and held the rank of major in the Maryland militia. Another very successful merchant in Baltimore’s history, Gaither used Oakland as his country estate until he sold it to Mr. and Mrs. Philip Tabb in 1864.
Avid horse racing fans, the Tabbs constructed a half mile track and bred a number of famous race horses during the latter part of the nineteenth century. Under their ownership, a detailed map of the estate was made showing the location of the buildings and roads and noting the gardens and orchards near the mansion. In 1906, the Tabb family sold Oakland, then consisting of 421 acres to John V. L. Finley. Finley, in turn, offered the property for sale in 1923, and advertised that the mansion with 15 rooms and three baths was lighted by electricity.
Dramatic changes were made to Oakland by the next owners, Mr. and Mrs. A.H. Ryan of Washington, D.C. In the mid-1930’s, the original stucco and the south porch were removed, and a terrace was created instead. A greenhouse at the east end of the house was demolished to make way for a rose garden. Interior work included a great deal of wall demolition to create a more open area.
Several more owners moved through Oakland after the Second World War before the Rouse Company acquired it in 1965. In the ensuing years, it served as the Rouse Company’s first headquarters for the Columbia project, as Dag Hammerskjold College and Antioch College, and finally, as the county offices of the American Red Cross.
Since Oakland opened its doors in October, 1989, thousands of visitors and guests have been welcomed. Refurbished close to its original federal style, today Oakland serves as a meeting and social event center for Columbia and the surrounding area. The library on the first floor, ideal for card games and small meetings, houses a collection of volumes on Oakland, Howard County, historic activities and pastimes. The ballroom which provides ample room for festivities, leads to a spacious veranda and gardens. The Maryland Museum of African Art is housed on the second floor. Each wing of the building has identical rooms that are ideal for meetings, small dinners, or board functions.
Oakland’s gardens were designed by Charles Shaw, a landscape architect, to reflect plantings common at the time that Oakland was built. Designated originally as a greenhouse, the renovated Bishop’s Garden is located outside the east wing of Oakland. Original bolts can still be viewed on top of its mortared stone walls. Community groups, garden clubs, and school children have planted gardens to further enhance Oakland’s beauty. The ambiance of the evergreen magnolia, fragrant lavender, liriope, roses, azaleas, traditional English boxwood, and daylilies are authentic to both the time period and the visual beauty of the surrounding area.
Oakland today has the grace and beauty of a “Step Back in Time.” A lovely site for weddings, special occasions, conferences, and business meetings, programs are offered to the public that include afternoon tea, recitals, chamber music concerts, and tours. An active partnership with the Howard County Public School System has helped foster a new appreciation for preservation in the coming generations. In this way, Oakland has been adapted for modern uses while still preserving the heritage of its past.
We are delighted that you have taken time from your busy day to step back in time to Oakland, where nineteenth century elegance meets twentieth century amenities. As you follow this self-guided tour, you can easily imagine the many weddings, concerts, lectures, business meetings, and private parties that have been held here. We hope you will take your time and enjoy your tour.
As you step into the foyer, you pass under one of the oldest and largest leaded-glass fan lights in the state of Maryland. A copy is mirrored above the entrance to the ballroom. Accents are period reproductions similar to the original furnishings of the house. The Belgian chandeliers were added circa 1940.
Entering the ballroom, note the crystal chandeliers and sconces. The unusual carpet is true to the federal time period in both color and pattern. The twin fireplaces in both the ballroom and foyer are typical of the high-style federal mantels found in the Maryland-Tidewater region in the early 1800’s. The door at the west end of the ballroom leads to a catering kitchen while the two center doors lead to the veranda and back lawn.
Turn right out of the ballroom and walk down a short corridor past a coat room and into a favorite spot at Oakland… the library. The library’s quiet grace makes it a retreat within a retreat. The room’s rich consistent colors and decor have provided the perfect backdrop for photographs commemorating special events. From Edgar Allan Poe to historic prose, the bookshelves of Oakland are being filled with volumes about Howard County, fiction of the 1800’s, creative pastimes, and videotapes about the renovation of Oakland. Through a partnership with the school system, Oakland has also received videotaped reenactments of historic scenes by students.
Returning to the foyer, you’ll note that the twin staircases added in the late 1930’s lead to an upper level room on either side. The staircase by the reception desk takes you to the Ridgely Room, named for the first owner of Oakland. Please note the curved doorway, as well as the only original fireplace mantel in the building. Walking through the upstairs hallway, past the Maryland Museum of African Art (a wonderful treasure trove to explore), you’ll find a men’s room, ladies’ room, and ladies’lounge. The ladies’ lounge is used as a private readying room for brides or guests of honor. At the top of the other staircase is the Sterrett Room, also named for Charles Sterrett Ridgely, Oakland’s builder. This room contains the only original curved doorway and door, as well as a reproduction of the original mantel and the original slate surrounds.
The lower level of Oakland, reached through the interior rear staircase or two side doors, houses the original kitchen, a bright sunny room with a large non-working fireplace that was considered very modern when Oakland was built. A sophisticated “all-in-one” system, with a bain-marie to the right and bread baking component directly above it, the kitchen allowed both baking and warming to take place. A stairway once existed to the upper level of the building, so that meals could be served at the family’s request. The remaining rooms on the lower level are private offices, restrooms, and an additional meeting room.
To leave the building, walk out the Kitchen Room door, follow the walkway and turn left towards the parking lot or walk down the hallway and exit through the west wing door under the ramp.
We hope that you have enjoyed this self-guided tour of Oakland! If you require further information or you have any questions, please ask our receptionist. We hope to have you back again as our guest at Oakland very soon!
Mary Sterrett (Mrs. Richard Gittings, Sr) 1772-1847
Charles Wilson Peale, 1788
“Known as Polly, Mary Sterrett was the daughter of Captain John and Deborah Ridgely Sterrett of Baltimore. This likeness was painted in anticipation of her marriage to Richard Gittings, Senior (1763-1830), also of Baltimore, on November 20, 1788. It apparently predates the pendant of her fiance… judging by an entry in Peale’s diary for September 6, 1788, recording payment for Gittings’ likeness, but noting that the frame for “Miss Sterrett’s” was still to be paid for.”
Courtesy of the Baltimore Museum of Art
Archibald Dobbin, Jr. (1764-1830)
Joshua Johnson, 1803
“A fine example of a bust-length portrait by Joshua Johnson, one of the first free Black men in the state of Maryland. This ranks among the finest of the artist’s known bust-length portraits within a trompe-l’oeil oval.”
Collection of the Maryland Historical Society