FDR Inspecting Plans for Greenbelt in 1937
The heart of today’s Greenbelt, Maryland – popularly known as “Old Greenbelt” – is a large, planned community laid out and constructed during the New Deal. It features community facilities such as a school, theater and community center, a large number and variety of housing, basic infrastructure of roads, water and sewers, and extensive landscaping and an attached forest. Almost all of the original facilities are still intact.
Greenbelt was one of four greenbelt towns initiated by Rex Tugwell, head of the Resettlement Administration (RA). Greendale, Wisconsin, near Milwaukee, and Greenhills, Ohio, near Cincinnati, are other surviving greenbelt towns; a fourth, to be located in New Jersey, was never built. The greenbelt towns were social experiments, envisioned by Tugwell in utopian terms but very much in keeping with the leading ideas of city planners at the time.
Old Greenbelt was built by the Resettlement Administration in 1935-38, opening officially in 1937; there were 885 housing units in the original plan. It was later expanded by the Federal Works Agency in 1941-42 to provide another one thousand units to house families of defense worker in the lead-up to World War II. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) provided most of the labor. (The RA was established in 1935 and terminated in 1938, when its programs were folded into the Farm Security Administration).
The architecture was streamlined in the Art Deco style popular at that time with curving lines, glass brick inserts in the facades of apartment buildings, and buttresses along the front wall of the elementary school. There are several public art works in the town, as well.
The Index to WPA Projects in the National Archives describes the wide range of work necessary to create an entire town: “General improvements to Greenbelt, including constructing fire stops and trails: installing water lines and fountains at picnic areas; building sidewalks and steps; altering firehouse; rebuilding manholes; resetting riprap; improving drainage ditches; erecting fences around playgrounds; planting shrubs; painting sewage plant, underpasses, and highway markers; grading and surfacing parking spaces; installing vales at rear of houses for sprinkling purposes; installing drains from experimental houses.”
The center of Old Greenbelt is the intersection of Crescent Road and Southway. The overall area is roughly bounded by Edmonston Road, the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, and Greenbelt Road.
Old Greenbelt was named a National Historic District in 1997.
National Archives, Record Group 69, “Microfilmed Index to WPA Projects.”
Williamson, Mary Lou (1987). Phillips, Nancy O. (ed.). Greenbelt: History of a New Town, 1937-1987. Norfolk, VA: Donning Co. pp. 1–43
Project originally submitted by Gray Brechin on May 10, 2012.
Additional contributions by Richard Walker.
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Just visited Greenbelt, MD. What a heartbreaker. We were actually able to do it — create lovely, compact functional communities for middle and lower middle income people. What a tragedy.
-Erica Schoenberger, Baltimore, MD
Greenbelt is a phenomenal place for ALL to live. A living, viable, on-going example of citizen engagement at its finest.
I agree with you on both points! I’ve visited Greenbelt quite a few times.
I love Greenbelt I love my county I love everything about Greenbelt its nice I went to Greenbelt Middle School from 2004 – 2006 it changed so much I missed it alot now they changed everything its a whole new school name now but back when I was in there I remember it so much I got picture was of myself in Greenbelt Middle School it brings back so many memories cause I had back then in Greenbelt Middle when I was in there cause I remember my days there in Greenbelt Middle and the subjects I had from 7th grade to 8th grade 2005 was my best year in Greenbelt Middle I love myself during those years amazing times I got everything life is good.