By Annierose Donnelly
The story of The Woodlands really begins with the life and times of Mr. George P. Mitchell. There are many accounts of this visionary Texan, who along with his wife Cynthia, dreamed of a cozy community nestled within the pineywoods. Somewhere unlike anywhere else in the Greater Houston region.
Scott Mitchell is the oldest of George and Cynthia Mitchell’s 10 children, a family comprised of seven boys and three girls. Scott Mitchell remembers his father as an outdoorsman at his core — and that informed and drove the vision of what The Woodlands has become as it approaches its 50th anniversary (the big date is officially next year with the year-long celebration starting this October).
But before you can truly understand The Woodlands and how far it’s come over these last five decades, you need to truly understand the life of George Mitchell.
Growing up in Galveston, a young George Mitchell discovered a passion for beach combing and fishing, interests he continued to explore throughout his life.
Galveston’s then close-knit community would come to influence Mitchell’s vision for The Woodlands, mixed with his strong desire to preserve the native forest and plants in the area. The beauty of Mother Nature always fascinated George.
“His bond with nature inspired the way he developed The Woodlands,” Scott Mitchell notes. “He was always the first to point out a pretty sunset or how nice a tree was.”
The Woodlands remains rooted in nature almost 50 years later. It boasts 220 miles of connected hike and bike trails and 151 neighborhood parks, with every home in the township a quarter mile away from one at most. In addition, an unprecedented 7,709 acres (28% of the community) has been preserved as permanent green space by Howard Hughes. Yes, this is a place where you can live in nature.
George Mitchell, The Scholar
George Mitchell left for college at Texas A&M University at age 16. A distinguished student, George Mitchell graduated at the top of his A&M class, earning valedictorian honors and a degree in petroleum engineering with an emphasis in geology. With his knack for understanding science, Mitchell could visualize detailed records of geological formations and quickly identify aspects of them. He went on to create his own hugely successful oil and gas company — Mitchell Energy and Development Corp.
George Mitchell was multidimensional. He was the captain of the tennis team at Texas A&M and his love for the sport helped keep him in great shape throughout his long life.
George Mitchell continued playing tennis into his adulthood and later with his family. He loved playing socially, entering amateur doubles tournaments with friends.
“He was loyal to his friends, and they were loyal to him,” Scott Mitchell says.
The founder of The Woodlands loved to challenge his kids to a game of tennis. “Not a single one of us could beat him at tennis, mostly because of his red-hot serve,” Scott shares.
Understanding The Universe
George Mitchell’s career spanned the energy business, real estate development and philanthropy, but this is a man whose mind never seemed to turn off. Mitchell’s curiosity helped drive him.
He always had “a fascination with the heavens,” Scott Mitchell details. By the time he was 14, George Mitchell had read all the astronomy books in the Galveston Library. His favorite movie was Somewhere in Time (1980) starring Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeves. And the concept of time travel continued to be a subject of great fascination to Mitchell, especially towards the end of his days. (Mitchell passed away on July 26, 2013, at home in his still-beloved Galveston.)
One of his last projects was raising funds for the research and construction of the Giant Magellan Telescope, built in collaboration with Texas A&M. It is still on course to become the most powerful telescope on Earth.
Still, George Mitchell always will be most known for creating The Woodlands. It is something he understood and largely embraced. “It probably has a greater effect on (people) compared to what I accomplished in energy,” Mitchell said of The Woodlands in a 2004 interview.
Since The Woodlands officially opened on October 19, 1974, its hometown feel traces back to the original vision of this true family man. One that Howard Hughes is now dedicated to preserving and building on for the next 50 years.
But as The Woodlands begins to celebrate its first 50 years, it’s important to remember that this special region — now a dynamic hub of its own in Texas, a land where sophisticated shopping, restaurants, culture, art and fashion come together — started with the personal touch of one man.
Robert Heineman began working with George Mitchell on The Woodlands project as a summer intern in 1971, and he went on to work on that vision started by Mitchell for the next 50 years until he retired as vice president of planning for Howard Hughes in 2021. Heineman remembers George Mitchell’s ability to relay details with high precision from projects years in the past. But he also remembers the personal touch.
“He would always remember people and faces and could tie them to a project he had worked on,” Heineman says.
Which makes sense. George Mitchell always knew that a community like The Woodlands is all about the people who make it come to life, the people who live and work here and make it matter.
Many thanks to The Woodlands 50th Anniversary Partners:
FOUNDING – Howard Hughes
LEGACY – Woodforest National Bank
HERITAGE – Waste Connections Inc.
GOLD – Entergy Texas, Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital
SILVER – SVN|JBeard Real Estate, The John Cooper School
PRODUCER – The Woodlands Township