‘U.S. Government Building a Communist Town’ - Greendale!
Week#47: Seventy five (75) years after Greendale was started, it continues to be a great place to raise a family. But this New Deal experiment was controversial and opposed by many as communism.
History records and explains past events, while folklore preserves what people widely remember.
History and Folklore!
Once final approval was received, the construction of Greendale began immediately. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was put in charge and began hiring unemployed workers who were on relief. These developments were reported by the Milwaukee Journal newspaper:
MJ 5/25/36 – “Excavation for the foundations of 38 residences in Greendale, resettlement administration project near Hales Corners, was started Monday with a force of almost 700 men. according to Fred L. Naumer, regional coordinator for the RA,”
MJ 6/1/36 “Nine hundred workers were put to work on the resettlement administration’s Greendale project near Hales Corners during the last week, William R. Logan, supervisor of labor management for the project, announced Monday. …”Our payroll now amounts to $1,333 a day.”
At its peak in 1936 approximately 2,000 workers were employed on the construction of Greendale. Skilled workers were paid $2 an hour, and unskilled workers 50¢ an hour. The unemployment rate nationally was still at 17%, down slightly from the peak of 25% in 1933. So labor unions in Milwaukee were in favor of the project. Work was scarce and these were good steady jobs. But not everyone was in agreement.
The Washington Post newspaper reported on September 1, 1936 that “A group of Milwaukee residents and 32 building and loan associations joined yesterday in seeking injunctions in District Court here to halt construction of two New Deal projects,”.
The first project was being referred to as ‘Parklawn’ under the Public Works Administration and Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes and it was being built in the near northwest section of Milwaukee. The second was ‘Greendale’ built on farmland purchased southwest of Milwaukee under the direction of the Resettlement Association and Assistant Secretary of Agriculture Rexford Guy Tugwell. The suit held that tax rates for the general population would increase since the government was tax exempt. They contended they would have to supply free fire protection, police, and schools without any increase in revenues. But that was not necessarily the whole story.
The list of plaintiffs included many institutions with a large number of real estate holdings. They felt that the government was unfairly competing with them and depressing the value of their holdings. They charged that the rents would be lower than similar private properties, that vacant properties would ensue causing them irreparable loses, and that adequate livings quarters were available and there was no need for either of these housing projects. That would be a hard sell for anyone who visited any large city during the 1930’s. There was a real housing shortage and conditions in many properties were deplorable. Their lawsuit did seem to be motivated by self-interest. It was always planned that the community be self-sustaining, with Fire, Police, Schools etc. One change did come about as a result of the suit, the government agreed to pay a fixed annual amount in taxes to the State of Wisconsin.
The other real objection to these projects was the fear of communism. That might seem foolish and incomprehensible to us today, but the decades before the construction of Greendale were tumultuous to say the least. Consider these national and international events:
- 1914 World War I begins involving all the great powers of Europe.
- 1917 Russian Revolution deposes Nicholas II and ends the 300 year reign of the Romanov Dynasty.
- 1918 World War I ends in Europe with the Treaty of Versailles.
- 1920 Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution takes effect, the start of Prohibition. 1920’s saw a decrease in the consumption of alcohol but an increase in corruption, violence and criminal activity.
- 1922 The Bolsheviks led by Vladimir Stalin unify Russia and form the Soviet Union.
- 1924 Death of Stalin and rise to power of Joseph Stalin. Stalin ruled Communist Russia with an iron fist for the next 30 years and engineered Russia’s emergence as a world super power.
- 1929 The U.S. Stock Market Crash triggered by the excesses and false prosperity of the 1920’s.
- 1930 The U.S. Smoot-Hawley Tariff bill raises tariffs on 20,000 imported goods, triggering the worldwide Great Depression that lasted until World War II.
- 1930’s U.S. Dust Bowl years, particularly 1934 and 1936. Thousands migrate to the cities.
- 1933 U.S. Unemployment rate at 25%
This period in history was unprecedented in terms of war, revolution and hardship. No wonder that some feared the growing power and reach of the U. S. Government. One of the harshest critics was Charles E. Blake of the Chicago American newspaper. There was nothing sugar coated about his comments October 26, 1936.
“America’s first COMMUNISTIC town is rapidly approaching completion and actually within ninety miles of Chicago–eight miles from the center of Milwaukee. … And the government men from Washington do NOT deny that Greendale is a communistic town. The New Century Dictionary defines “communism” in these words: “A theory or system of social organization based on the holdings of property in common, actual ownership being ascribed to the community as a whole OR TO THE STATE: … And that-for lack of a more descriptive work picture –is Greendale, Wisconsin.”
In another editorial on the next day he said
“the government has planned this first COMMUNISTIC town so that it will be forever IMPOSSIBLE for any of the homes, stores or farms to be PRIVATELY OWNED.”
He said a dictator would manage the town, telling everyone what they could and could not do, and evicting them at any time. No churches were to be built by the government in Greendale. It would be a godless servile community. I assume Mr. Blake did not apply to reside in Greendale!
Funny thing is, they couldn’t keep the public away. Thousands visited the site to check on its progress. There was a corps of guides who were maintained to show visitors around the project. They kept records and reported that more than a half million people visited Greendale between September 1936 and August 1937. And now seventy-five years later we know the rest of the story. The community of Greendale united and prospered. In the summer of 1938 both St. Luke’s Lutheran Church and St. Alphonsus Catholic Church held their first services. Then in 1947 the government offered the homes for private ownership.
The real and understandable fears about what Greendale might become were not realized. Instead the dreams of what might be did come true. Greendale was affordable housing at a time of great need, a safe rural like setting, a great place to raise a family, a New Deal success.
But did you know?
The Post Office opened in Greendale on December 16, 1938 in the small alcove in the new business development on the west side of Broad Street. Before the post office opened mail was picked up at Village Hall. The first postmaster was Edward Bengs. Picking up mail at the Post Office was one
way residents met new people in the Village. While some enterprising youths organized a personal delivery service, Government Postal delivery did not start until July 16th, 1953.
If you remember some of the chronology (see Week#72), the Milwaukee Community Development Corporation (MCDC) purchased the remaining open land in Greendale in January of 1953. Almost immediately the expansion of housing began with the building of the Greendale Woodlands and Canterbury Heights in 1954. No wonder with the explosion of housing getting underway that the delivery of mail started approximately 6 months after the MCDC purchase.
Population Explosion in Greendale!
If he had been with me last Friday when I met Greendale’s newest twin baby girls, even the cold communist heart of Joseph Stalin would have melted. Talk about cute! These six month old identical twins are the offspring of proud parents Kelly and Jason Cyborowski. These beauties are destined to break hearts and being identical twins drive the boys crazy. For now they are just the bundles of joy children are intended to be.
Kelly and Jason did not grow up in Greendale. Kelly’s family (maiden name Lemke) moved to Greendale right before Kelly started high school. She attended Greendale High and graduated in the class of 2001. Jason on the other hand grew up in Oak Creek and met Kelly while socializing with friends in Milwaukee. While hopelessly attracted to Kelly, he hated driving to Greendale to visit her. He found the streets confusing and frequently got lost. However, he dealt with the directional problems until they got married, and then they took up residence in Franklin. But after a few years Kelly missed Greendale. She missed her friends who had remained there. She missed living close to the city but feeling like you lived in the country. In the meantime, Jason had also become less anti-Greendale. So they found a nice ranch house in the ‘D’ section and returned to Greendale.
Both Kelly and Jason are very career oriented. Kelly is a registered nurse and is continuing her education towards a Master’s degree. Her goal is to become a Nurse Practitioner (NP). Wikipedia explains that “NPs can serve as a patient's primary health care provider, and see patients of all ages depending on their specialty (family, pediatrics, geriatrics, etc.). Nurse Practitioners hold national board certification in an area of specialty (such as family, women's health, pediatrics, adult, acute care, etc.), and are licensed through the state nursing boards.” For example, my primary health care provider is a Nurse Practitioner and I see her annually for my physical examination. Being a NP is a challenging and important professional goal for Kelly. Good luck!
Jason is equally motivated to work hard and succeed. By the time he was 12 years old his dad had him up on roofs nailing on shingles. Once he got his driver’s license he was working on roof tops by himself or with some of his friends. His father Jerome (Jerry) and mother Marie started in the construction business in 1983. Jerry began by roofing houses, then added replacing gutters, repairing basements, remodeling homes and home additions. Now there is little they don’t do, from roofing up to light commercial work. Primarily the work is in Greendale or the surrounding communities of Oak Creek, Franklin, Muskego, Hales Corners and Greenfield. In 1999 Jerry and Jason went into business together and named the company ‘J&J Contractors I LLC’. It is a family business with Jerry in sales, Marie as the Administrator, brother Jonathan as Administrative Assistant, and Jason managing all of the jobs. The business has continued to grow despite the slow economy and now employs 20 people. Of course, Kelly is still ‘critical’ to the smooth operation of the business. Jason still calls her for directions when he gets ‘lost’ in Greendale. Some things never change.
What is neat about Kelly, Jason and the twins is that 75 years after the first residents moved into Greendale, the ideals it was founded on are still true. Greendale was envisioned to provide affordable housing for families, to provide a clean, safe, community environment. Kelly and Jason chose Greendale to set down permanent roots for those same reasons. They told me they go for long walks in the Village with the twins, sometimes for up to 2 hours. When the girls get older they can actually walk to Canterbury Elementary School, later the Middle School, and eventually the Greendale High School. That was always the plan for Greendale, to be able to walk to as many places as possible. In the sprawling suburbs that is virtually unimaginable.
Just like residents from the early days, Kelly & Jason are involved in the community, personally and through their company, J&J Contractors. They sponsor Greendale Youth Baseball, the bulletin at St. Al’s, the Greendale Original Neighborhood Association (GONA) newsletter, the ice rink in front of the Middle School, and most recently ‘Greendale’s 75th Diamond Celebration’ in 2013. They are one of top Diamond sponsors and the money they donated goes to support the anniversary events in 2013, like the 2013 Village Days parade.
Amazing? Just wait until you here this. While driving around Greendale this summer, Jason occasionally has seen a home in need of minor repairs. After checking with the home owner he has done the repairs for nothing. He does not make this a big publicity event. Maybe what he’s doing helps promote his business, but that’s iffy. I can guarantee it is very much appreciated by the homeowners. I’m recalling the words of Greg Turay from last week’s article on the GEA (see Week#48), “You only get out of a community what you put into it”. Thank you Jason and Kelly for what you put into the community.
I have written many stories told to me by older residents who grew up in Greendale. They tell me about how great growing up here was, and how much they still love Greendale. Well, Kelly and Jason are creating those same memories for their children. At Greendale’s 100th Anniversary Johann Joy and Jayla Jean will be telling their own stories, about ‘the good old days’ growing up in Greendale in the years 2010s and 2020s. How perfect!
Ps I saved writing the names of the twins until last. Can you guess why? No. Well check out the initials of their first and middle names, Johanna Joy and Jayla Jean. Yup, J&J!
Greendale Trivia Question and Answer:
Week#48 Answer – Postal Delivery service started in Greendale on July 16th, 1953.
Week#47 Question – In this story we learned that Jason and Kelly had twin girls in 2012. When were the first set of twins born in Greendale and who were they?
** Week #47 contributors Sally Chadwick, Kelly and Jason Cyborowski, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, Greendale Historical Society, Milwaukee Journal, Chicago American, J&J Contractors.