The dooryard bloom’d

Greenbelt, Md., 1938, by Marion Post Wolcott, via Library of CongressMother and daughter cut flowers in their cottage style garden in Greenbelt, Maryland, near Washington, D.C., September 1938, by Marion Post Wolcott, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Greenbelt was one of three* “Greenbelt Towns” created by the New Deal federal government in the late 1930s.  The built-from-scratch communities were designed to provide the best of both city and country living.

Greenbelt, Md., 1938, by Marion Post Wolcott, via Library of Congress

In addition to affordable housing, they incorporated commercial, medical, educational, and social facilities — all within park-like landscaping.

. . .Greenbelt was an experiment in both the physical and social planning that preceded its construction. Homes were grouped in superblocks, with a system of interior walkways permitting residents to go from home to town center without crossing a major street. Pedestrian and vehicular traffic were carefully separated. The two curving major streets were laid out upon and below a crescent-shaped natural ridge. Shops, school, ball fields, and community buildings were grouped in the center of this crescent.

. . .The first families were chosen not only to meet [low] income criteria, but also to demonstrate willingness to participate in community organizations.

[They] arrived on October 1, 1937, [and] found no established patterns or institutions of community life. Almost all were under 30 years of age. All considered themselves pioneers in a new way of life. A mix of blue and white collar workers, they reflected the religious composition of Baltimore and Washington, D.C.—Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish; but because of the racial bias controlling public policy at that time, all were white.†

. . .In 1952, when Congress voted to sell off the greenbelt towns, citizens in Greenbelt formed a housing cooperative (Greenbelt Veterans Housing Corporation, later Greenbelt Homes, Inc.)

— “The History of Greenbelt, Maryland

Greenbelt, MD, in 2005, HABS, via Library of Congress

Old Greenbelt” has been well preserved over the years and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1997.  The photo above shows some of its rowhouses with gardens in 2005.  It was taken by James W. Rosenthal for an Historic American Buildings Survey (via Library of Congress).

More Library of Congress photos of Greenbelt are here (1938) and here (2005).

*Along with Greendale, Wisconsin, near Milwaukee, and Greenhills, Ohio, near Cincinnati.

†The Census found that 41% of residents were African-American in 2000.

Green space

Greenhills, Ohio, 1938, J. Vachon, via Library of CongressGreenhills, Ohio, October 1938, by John Vachon for the U.S. Resettlement Administration, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Greenhills, Ohio is one of only three “Greenbelt Towns” built [by the federal government] in the United States. The other two are Greenbelt, Maryland, and Greendale, Wisconsin. The three towns had their start during the Depression Era.*

.  .  . 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.

.  .  . 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 Village of Greenhills website

There are more Library of Congress photos of Greenhills here.

*The first residents moved in in April 1938.

The Sunday porch: the hollows

There seems to be a potted oleander on the left side.

The front porch of a home of the extended Nicholson family of Nicholson Hollow (top three images) in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, October 1935.*

The Shenandoah National Park is a narrow strip of supremely lovely wilderness along the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. It begins at Front Royal, about 75 miles west of Washington, D.C., and ends west of Charlottesville.

The park was authorized by Congress in 1926 and fully established by the end of 1935 — two months after these pictures were taken by Arthur Rothstein for the U.S. Resettlement Administration (later the Farm Security Administration).

In order to create a fully “natural” environment, over 450 families were moved out of the park area under the process of eminent domain. Most were small farmers who had been portrayed in a widely publicized 1933 sociological study as desperately poor, primitive, and cut off from 20th century society.


After they were gone, the Civilian Conservation Corps destroyed their homes and outbuildings. The only structures saved were some log houses and rail fences around Nicholson Hollow.


In the mid 1990s, the National Park Service sponsored an archaeological survey of 88 pre-park human settlements in Nicholson, Corbin, and Weakley Hollows.**

The findings of the study strongly refuted the earlier claims that the families (who were indeed often poor) were cut off the modern world. Researchers found china plates, mail order toys, 78 RPM record fragments, pharmaceutical bottles, and automobile parts.

CorbinPorch view of Corbin Hollow from one house of the Corbin family (above and below).

The Corbins were very hard hit by the Depression-years decline of the nearby Skyland Resort, which had previously given them employment and a market for their crafts.


There are two very good papers on the displaced people of Nicholson and Corbin Hollows on the National Park Service website, here and here.

Corbin Hollow farm, Shenandoah Natl. Park, 1935, LoCAbove: another Corbin Hollow farm.

ViewAbove: an abandoned house in Nicholson Hollow.

More of Rothstein’s Shenandoah images are here. Recording the last days of the park’s human inhabitants was his first assignment with the Resettlement Administration.

*All the photos here by Arthur Rothstein, in 1935, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

**In 2000, not long after the study was completed, a forest fire destroyed all but two of the remaining above-ground buildings.