Greenhills, Ohio is one of only three “Greenbelt Towns” built in the United States. The other two are Greenbelt, Maryland and Greendale, Wisconsin. The three towns had their start during the Depression Era. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created a program to build new suburban communities as part of his New Deal plans for the country. The overseeing department was the Resettlement Administration which later became a part of the Farms Security Administration. The building of these towns provided much needed jobs for those in the trades (brick layers, plumbers, carpenters, electricians, etc.), as well as people not in the trades who worked at clearing land, digging trenches, etc....
These men and women were a part of the WPA (Works Progress Administration), the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) , and the NYA (National Youth Administration). The use of local building materials and supplies also helped stimulate the local economy.
Nearly 4,000 residents inhabit 1,660 homes, with many families including third and fourth generation descendants from original "pioneers."
Several unique housing units are available in the village. The original government-built area is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Much of the local retail activity is centered in historic Greenhills Shopping Center.
Each “Greenbelt Town” had certain similar criteria that needed to be met to be considered as a “Greenbelt Town”. It had to be near a major city to provide jobs for area residents. Each town had a Village center that had shops, a community center (which were used for schools and community activities) and government offices. The homes were to surround that Village center. And each town had a wide green belt of land surrounding the town that could easily be used as farm land for raising crops or animals. The most important aspect of these towns was to provide low income families with affordable housing to raise their children in and a safe environment with access to large open “green” spaces. Pathways were created in each section of homes to connect the sections to each other, as well as provide a pathway to the Village center.
The streets were designed with children and safety as a priority. There are three types of streets: residential, feeder, and main street. Residential streets are fairly short and are usually courts or dead ends, which significantly limits through traffic. Each residential street empties into a slightly larger street known as a feeder street to help guide cars into the last type of larger street, known a main street.
Another unique feature of Greenhills, OH and Greendale is how the streets in each section were named alphabetically. All the streets in a given area start with the same letter.
Homes in each “Greenbelt Town” also have similar qualities. Greenhills and Greenbelt, MD have large areas with long rows of townhouses. The homes also share a common site design and building plan. Homes were built close to the curb, almost totally eliminating a front yard. Instead, the emphasis was put on having a larger lawn to the backyard. This provided a much larger vista for playing and gardening, as well as evoking the wide-open feel of the country.
The orientation of the rooms in the “Original” is also unusual compared to homes built today. Living rooms were placed in the rear of the house, with a large picture window overlooking the open vista in the backyard. In most cases, the main entryway was placed on the side or in the back of the home. The entrance near the curb (in the small extension of the building) provides an entry into the utility room. The homes are fondly referred to as having been built backwards.
Each “Original” unit has between one and four bedrooms of modest to small size. A single bathroom is located on the second floor, excluding the honeymoon suites which are only 1 story high. All have an eat-in kitchen or a kitchen with a small dinette, a utility room, and a modest sized living room with large, natural wood beams. An innovation for its time, the wood sub floor of the second floor served as the ceiling – cutting back on the expense of an extra ceiling layer.
None of the units were built with basements which was common in homes. Contrary to the beloved story that the federal government ran out of money to include basements or the story that design plans for the homes got mixed up, the truth is the original plans never included basements. The units do have a crawl space under the house for some of the mechanics. The first floor was constructed of cement and covered with tile.
When the housing was originally built, the Federal Government was the landlord. An individual had to meet certain requirements in order to rent a place in any of the three “Greenbelt Towns”. In Wisconsin, a person’s annual income had to fall between $1,200 to $2,700 per year. Having a family with children was also important, even though there are units that were referred as “Bachelor” apartments & “Honeymoon Suites.” The government even considered an individual’s moral character before deciding who was eligible to rent a unit.
People find employment in the village working for such diverse employers as Winton Woods City Schools, Mobilcomm Technologies and Alois Alzheimer Center. Greenhills has a strong recreation program operating a nine-hole par-three executive golf course and an outdoor pool, both open to the public. Youth sports are sponsored year-round by the Greenhills-Winton Sports Association. The Greenhills Volunteer Fire Department, American Legion Post 530, Greenhills Woman's Club, Kiwanis and several scouting, church, gardening, civic and senior clubs are among the many volunteer organizations serving Greenhills resident.