|Greenhills housing under construction in April 1937. Enquirer file|
Built by government as New Deal project
By Jeff Suess
The village of Greenhills, a greenbelt community in northern Hamilton County built by the federal government as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, has turned 75 years old.
The first residents moved to Avenell Lane on April 1, 1938.
Nestled within Winton Woods, surrounded by forest, Greenhills still has the look of an early suburban town. Most of the original buildings are still in use, and the historic district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Wendel Fisher has been living in Greenhills since nearly the beginning. His family moved to a house on Bachman Street in June 1938, when he was 2 years old.
He recalls bygone days of ice cream socials and the whole neighborhood partaking in grillouts of blue gill that some of the men had caught in Sharon Woods.
But, times change, people change. Neighborhoods aren’t as neighborly.
“It doesn’t seem like it was when I was growing up,” Fisher said. “We didn’t have television in the ’40s, and, of course, the war was going on.”
|April 7, 1937: Greenhills housing project.|
Back in 1935, the Resettlement Administration planned to build 25 cooperative towns surrounded by greenspace of forests and farmland, hence the term “greenbelt.” It was an experiment in community planning that also provided work and middle-income housing during the Great Depression.
Greenhills was the third village completed, after Greenbelt, Md., and Greendale, Wis. Then the program ran out of money.
Greenhills alone cost $11.5 million, which included purchasing 5,360 acres of land in Springfield Township. About 3,300 workers spent 4.3 million man-hours constructing the town, and many of them became its first residents.
The land north of town was divided into large farms, where residents would come for fresh milk and produce.
In 1939, the forest to the south was handed over to the Hamilton County Park Board to form Winton Woods.
Fisher remembers his mother talking about the application process to join Greenhills. Government officials came out and interviewed their neighbors in Westwood to determine their moral character and make sure they would maintain the property.
The government required residents to have a steady job, making between $1,000 and $2,500 a year – that would be $16,000 to $40,000 today. This stipulation kept many of the poorest in Cincinnati from moving in.
Income was checked every year, and those who exceeded the maximum were asked to leave.
Only white families were accepted, though that was in an era when segregation was common.
Most of the 676 dwellings were apartments or multifamily townhouses, with only a few stand-alone homes. Many apartments had a modern style with flat roofs for easy maintenance.
All units were rented, not purchased, with an average rent of $27.62 a month ($441 in 2013 dollars).
Planners Justin Hartzog, who also helped plan Mariemont, and William Strong had the roads follow the natural rolling topography, with housing on dead-end side streets to cut down on traffic and make it safer for children to play.
|December 21, 1959: Greenhills' Shopping Center|
was one of the first strip malls in Ohio. Enquirer file
Everything a town needed was near one street, making it a walking community. The shopping center was one of the first strip malls in Ohio.
The Greenhills Community Building housed a library, gym and movie facilities, as well as two Works Progress Administration murals by Paul Chidlaw and Richard Zoellner.
After World War II, Uncle Sam decided to sell off the greenbelt towns, ending the community experiment. On Dec. 9, 1949, the Greenhills Home Owners Corp., a nonprofit tenant group, purchased 610 acres of Greenhills for $3.5 million. The tenants then bought the properties they had been renting.
New one-family houses of the typical suburban style were built, turning Greenhills into a bedroom community. The northern farmland was sold in 1952 to create New Greenhills, which was instead named Forest Park.
Fisher bought his own home in the “newer section” of town in 1962. After 37 years at Cincinnati Bell, he now volunteers at the Greenhills Historical Society sorting through the archives.
The population in 2010 was down to 3,615, about what it was in 1950.
In 2009, longtime residents protested when officials tore down 52 of the original flat-roof apartments that had been neglected, even though they were on the historic registry.
Now, for its diamond anniversary, Greenhills is celebrating its past with community events all year long.
“We have a pretty engaged community,” said Greenhills Mayor Fred Murrell. “A lot of people are proud of the village and happy to celebrate it.”
Greenhills, perhaps, hasn’t really changed that much.