The story of Greenbelt is the story of its people, of their images and
voices. Since the first pioneers moved in to the city in October 1937,
Greenbelt's citizens have maintained a rare sense of community and civic
activism. This exhibition celebrates the strong voices and diverse images
of Greenbelt's people.
As you listen to these voices and look at the images over the decades, think about the past, present and future of Greenbelt. How is Greenbelt different from other communities? What were some of the events in the city's history that brought the community together? How might the community change in the next century?
The Greenbelt Museum would like to say a special thanks to the community members who loaned or donated items for this show, and the Maryland Humanities Council which funded this exhibition through support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
1930sThe first residents who moved to the new town of Greenbelt in 1937 survived a "tenant selection process" which consisted of an interview in their former home. Among other criteria, potential residents had to be willing to become involved in community activities.
|Pioneer families formed the Journalism Club, the Greenbelt Cooperator (later the Greenbelt News Review), the American Legion, and four Women's Clubs. They also organized Labor Day and Fourth of July celebrations, both of which still survive today. Notice how many events were being held in October 1939!|
|Greenbelters joined together to form Greenbelt Consumer Services, Inc. (GCS) to cooperatively manage the businesses in town including the pharmacy/drug store, the grocery store and the Greenbelt Theatre. Even the children of Greenbelt operated a co-op--the "Gumdrop Co-op"--in the elementary school.|
|Although places of worship were not built into the original Greenbelt city plans, citizens used the Community Center (the building in which you now stand) to conduct the first religious services. Interdenominational Protestant and Jewish services were held here. Catholics held mass at the Greenbelt Theatre.|
1940sWorld War II drew the community together in new ways and also caused the city to more than double in size. Nearly 1,000 new wartime "defense" or frame homes were built to house people who were defense or government workers.
|Many Greenbelters worked in and commuted to Washington D.C. When the Capital Transit Authority refused to provide bus service to and from Greenbelt, the town council and citizens forced the company to change its mind.|
|Greenbelt women worked together to support the men overseas. Different organizations in the community including the women of B'nai B'rith and Women's Club created the "Greenbelt Cookie Jar." The women baked 70 dozen cookies each week and sent them to the soldiers.|
|Greenbelters helped the war effort by serving as airplane spotters who kept an eye on enemy planes. Men, women and children took their turns sitting on the roof of the Greenbelt Theatre. The community also sponsored drives for paper, metal and rubber, which would be used to build machinery for the war. Like many others throughout the country, citizens also planted "Victory Gardens" to produce food for canning.|
|The Drop-Inn, an after-school youth center, was built in the mid-1940s. Young people between the ages of 14-18 listened to the juke box, made crafts and ate hot dogs. They also were responsible for managing the facility. Everyone had a job.|
|The late 1940s and early 1950s saw the rise of many of the local churches. Greenbelt Community Church, St. Hugh's Catholic Church, Holy Cross Lutheran Church, the Jewish Community Center (to become Mishkan Torah Synagogue) and Mowatt Memorial United Methodist Church opened their doors in the years following World War II.|
1950sFollowing the war, Greenbelters found themselves facing new challenges to their community. As early as 1945, the federal government was deciding what to do with the city. The citizens came together in the early 1950s to form the Greenbelt Veterans Housing Corporation (which later became Greenbelt Homes, Inc.) to purchase the housing stock from the federal government. In 1952, GVHC bought 1,580 dwellings, 709 acres of vacant land and some apartment units and garages.
|Post-war development, which affected much of the nation, also hit Greenbelt. In 1954, planners proposed the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, a new shopping center and several high-rise buildings. All the while, citizens fought to preserve their green space and their sense of community. As Greenbelt scholar Cathy Knepper writes, "Greenbelt residents did not simply react against development, but rather, worked actively for a particular kind of development which they felt would enhance their community."|
|They also had to battle the "Red Scare" which affected life for many Americans in the 1950s. The Red Scare was a movement to isolate an individual from the community and accuse him or her of being a communist. Abraham Chasanow was one Greenbelt victim who was threatened with loss of his Navy Department job. When he was accused of being a communist, Greenbelters fought back by testifying on his behalf. A motion picture starring Ray Milland and Ernest Borgnine, "Three Brave Men" was made about the incident. The community continued to sponsor events and preserve its civic spirit throughout this decade. In 1953, Greenbelters of all religious denominations helped build the Jewish Community Center. The youth were also active at this time, publishing The Baby Cooperator and fighting to maintain the privilege of roller skating in the Community Center on Friday nights.|
|The community also elected its first woman mayor, Elizabeth Harrington, who took office in 1949. She was the first female mayor in the state of Maryland.|
1960sGreenbelters in the 1960s witnessed the most dramatic development to ever occur in the city. Communities including Springhill Lake, Boxwood Village, Lakeside North, Charlestowne North, Charlestowne Village, as well as Beltway Plaza, the shopping center, were constructed.