Welcome to Greenhills, Ohio
Most Greenbelters know that there were two other New Deal “greenbelt towns,” named for the belt of forest surrounding each one. After Greenbelt opened in 1937, Greenhills, Ohio, near Cincinnati, opened a year later and then Greendale, Wisconsin, near Madison, in 1939.
In August I was in Cincinnati for a plant conference and the first thing I did was head for Greenhills for a meet-up and tour with Greenhills Mayor David Moore – a generous offer of his time, with follow-up help by phone and email. Mayor Moore didn’t just know about Greenbelt because of its shared New Deal history but also because he’d been invited here for Greenbelt’s 50th anniversary celebration back in 1987. Folks from Greendale were also in attendance for the celebration.
At its opening, almost 4,000 residents inhabited 1,660 new homes in Greenhills – more than Greenbelt. Later changes to boundaries reduced the population to just the 3,800 residents it has today, which means it qualifies in Ohio as a village, not a town or city.
Like the other greenbelt towns, Greenhills was sold by the federal government in 1950, when its housing became privately owned – in contrast to Greenbelt’s housing becoming a co-operative.
One architecture website points to major similarities in town planning, though: Greenhills “features a highly innovative and distinctive curvilinear plan—both in its relationship to the natural topography and its use of setbacks, super-block planning, and cul-de-sacs, which would become a ubiquitous characteristic of post-World War II neighborhoods.” (While Greenbelt didn’t get cul-de-sacs, its predecessor in New Jersey – the Radburn community – did.)
For much more about Greenhills history I refer you to here and here and here and the village’s own website. This post will cover what I saw that’s similar to Greenbelt and also what’s different in its public buildings and spaces and business district. Part 2 of this report will cover the original and new residences.
In the category of terrific features that Greenhills can uniquely boast of is, importantly, its belt of green forest still intact, which woefully can’t be said about Greenbelt or Greendale, either.
Greenhills also has this nice green space or “commons” in the town center that includes a gazebo built in the 1990s for concerts and other events..
Speaking of community events, Greenhills’ biggest event is on July 4, not Labor Day, which they don’t celebrate officially at all.
Historic School, now Community Center
One source described the building as “an amalgam of stripped Classicism and International Style.”
The mural above was original to the school’s cafeteria but unfortunately the school painted it over. Two newer murals have subsequently been added to the building’s Reading Room.
About Greenhills murals (source)
Another important aspect of Greenhills was the incorporation of murals, sculpture, and other artwork by the Works Progress Administration. The community building contained a series of large murals by Richard Zoellner, Leo Murphy, and Paul Chidlaw in the library, cafeteria, and second-floor music room, respectively. Whitney Atchley’s Community Life, a ceramic bas-relief of two figures, hangs above the stage in the gymnasium.
I’m told that there were plans for Greenhills to have limestone sculptures installed in the common, but the statues ended up at the Dayton Art Institute, instead. (Who else is feeling lucky to have our “Mother and Child” and other great works by Lenore Thomas Straus?)
Another Greenhills icon is this pool, with its block glass and porthole windows.
I love that portholes were included in Greenbelt’s own expanded pool. as a nod to its history.
The mayor explained that Greenhills’ government has a smaller budget than Greenbelt, with less money for improvements, because Ohio residents are taxed where they work (mostly in the city of Cincinnati), not where they live, and there’s very little employment in Greenhills. Higher taxes here also keep business away, so Greenhills is all residential except for one commercial strip, shown above.
Here’s the rear of that strip. While vibrant colors have been painted over the original white (a change I like), the original condition is actually better preserved here than on the front.
To my surprise, the mayor told me that both Greenhills and Greendale originally had bars that were run by the federal government – until the sell-off in 1950.
About five years ago a restaurant/hang-out place that reminds me of the New Deal Cafe opened at one end of this commercial strip, where there was once a bank. When I visited it looked lively for a weekday afternoon so I was surprised to see that it closes at 2 pm every day (and is closed altogether on Mondays). The mayor tells me that before covid it had longer hours, including dinnertime, and its reduced hours continue because of trouble staffing up.
Meet the Chief
I also enjoyed meeting Chief of Police Neil R. Ferdelman, who was happy to provide a photo-op for the Greenbelt News Review. The Greenhills Police Department is surprisingly communicative with its residents – including with its website, a Facebook page, and a newsletter of events, tips and even videos.