Built during the Great Depression, Greenhills, Ohio was one of the three greenbelt towns planned by the federal government. Intended to create jobs and provide housing for low income families earning from $1000-$2000 per year, Greenhills was built on 6,000 acres of rural land on the outskirts of Cincinnati. The town provided its residents with open space, fresh air, and relief from urban congestion. Its master planner was Rexford Tugwell, a Columbia University economist, who led Roosevelt’s Resettlement Administration. Tugwell employed the nation's best urban planners and architects to design innovative new towns, each surrounded by a wooded greenbelt. In addition to the buffering greenbelt, Greenhills' town plan features a curvilinear street grid and the cul-de-sacs to provide safety and walkability.
In 1938, the first residents moved into the village of Greenhills. These residents were carefully selected after submitting an application, passing an interview process, and meeting demographic requirements set by the Resettlement Administration. Greenhills was racially segregated and remained so for decades.
As residents of Greenhills, families had access to numerous modern conveniences and community activities. The homes were designed in both traditional and modern styles and included new amenities such as refrigerators and electric stoves. Neighborhoods were designed to foster community building. Yards often led to shared spaces, and walking paths safely connected the community for adults and children alike. The community building was a focal point of the village, functioning as a K-12 school, library, Catholic and Protestant church, movie theater, and event space. In addition, Greenhills residents describe entire summers spent at the community pool. When the village opened, the only grocery store in town was a co-op.
In 1950, the federal government sold Greenhills to the Greenhills Homeowners Corporation. After this shift toward private ownership, the nature of the town fundamentally changed. As residents could then purchase their homes from the GHC, and their income restrictions were lifted, this moment marks the end of the first chapter in Greenhills history.
Links and Resources
The Village of Greenhills, Ohio:
The Living New Deal:
Library of Congress Photographs (search by "Greenhills"):
The Greenbelt Museum, Greenbelt, Maryland:
Greenbelt, Maryland Oral History and Cultural Landscape Project:
Greenbelt, Maryland StoryCorps Page:
Greendale, Wisconsin Historical Society:
A 1936 publication of the Resettlement Administration (cover pictured at right):
The Rexford Tugwell Room of the Prince George's County Public Library, Greenbelt Collection:
The John Scott Lansill Papers at the University of Kentucky:
The Charles Stamm Papers at the University of Cincinnati:
A 31 minute film made by the American Planning Association in 1939 and shown at the 1939 Worlds Fair in New York City. Features promotional footage of Greenbelt, Maryland in final third of the film.
History in Your Own Backyard Greenhills video:
An 8 minute film about Greenhills, Ohio.