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Greendale – The Village That Almost Wasn’t!

Week #37: In 1935, the government's order to create three ‘Greenbelt Towns’, their selection, and the purchase of farmland for the one eventually to be called ‘Greendale’ was accomplished.

History records and explains past events, while folklore preserves what people widely remember.

History and Folklore!

On April 30, 1935 President Roosevelt signed the executive order authorizing the creation of ‘Greenbelt Towns’. The Resettlement Administration (RA) was created to supervise the projects. The concept was very controversial and many political, social and economic compromises had to be worked out before starting. As many as 100 cities were considered for first three communities to be built.

The area southwest of Milwaukee fit the criteria established by the RA. It was near a major city (10 to 15 miles) that could provide jobs, had enough available land for purchase to accommodate developing a Village Center, shops, community center and offices. And there was a large greenbelt of land that would surround the new community of homes, providing affordable housing and a safe environment to raise a family. The RA faced less opposition in Milwaukee than almost any other city, and was selected for one of the new towns.

The amazing thing is that this all transpired in 4 months, an astonishing short period of time for any project let alone one run by the federal government. By August 1935, agents acting on behalf of the U.S. Government began negotiating in secret to acquire farm land for the Greendale site and most of the purchases were completed by December 1935. Originally the towns were required to be completed by June 30, 1936. This deadline was not met, but construction did start by May 1936.  Greendale officially opened for business and residents on May 1, 1938.

To put the history of the building of Greendale in perspective, consider what was happening nationally and internationally. Franklin Delano Roosevelt took the oath of office as President on March 4, 1933. He was faced with enormous economic, social and financial problems dealing with the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl in the Southwest United States. During the first 100 days of his administration he sent a record number of bills to congress for passage to provide immediate relief to the nation. One of these relief agencies was Roosevelt’s favorite, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) which put 250,000 unemployed young men to work. 

By 1936 Roosevelt was already working towards re-election (which he won in a landslide) and started his second term in office on January 20, 1937. In July of 1937, the Second Sino-Japanese War started between the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan. It was the largest Asian war of the 20th century. During this same period Adolf Hitler was on the rise in Germany. He was chancellor of Germany starting in 1933 and became dictator of Nazi Germany in 1934. Germany invaded Poland in September of 1939. In April 1940 Germany invaded Denmark and Norway, followed by invasions of the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France in May.

So what does all this mean? I think that all the stars were aligned just perfectly in those four months of 1935, and because of that Greendale became a reality. What if Roosevelt had not signed the executive order when he did? What if the Resettlement Administration had not worked quickly to select the sites for the three Greenbelt communities? What if Milwaukee had shown too much resistance to this new social experiment? What if the land had not been able to be purchased? What if construction had not started in 1936? What if, what if, what if?  

President Roosevelt had too many problems to solve nationally in 1933 and 1934, and too many internationally after 1936. The window of opportunity for the concept of the ‘Greenbelt Towns’ only existed for that brief period in 1935. But for that small opening, the Village of Greendale would not be celebrating its 75th Anniversary this year, 2013. That is truly amazing.

But did you know?

This week President Barack Obama took the oath of office at a private ceremony in the White House on January 20, 2013. He re-took the oath of office at a public ceremony in front of the Capitol on Monday, Jan. 21. However, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first inauguration was on March 4, 1933. I thought the inauguration occurred every four years on Jan. 20. There must be something that I don’t know, or to say it more accurately, ‘something else’ I don’t know….

I looked it up and found out that prior to the 20th Amendment the inauguration of the President of the United States took place on March 4. That’s the day of the year on which the Constitution of the United States first took effect in 1789. The last inauguration to take place on the older date was Franklin D. Roosevelt's first one on March 4, 1933.

The 20th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified on Jan. 23, 1933. It established the beginning and ending of the terms of the elected federal offices. Prior to this amendment, there was a lame duck period of four months between the election and taking the oath of office. This was most notably problematic in 1861 when the country waited for President-elect Abraham Lincoln and Congress to take office to begin dealing with the secession of the Southern States.

People, Past & Present!

The world can be a small place at times, and the story of two brothers from Greendale fleeing Nazi Germany is a perfect illustration of that. Otto Suderland was born in 1929 and his brother Fritz in 1931, both in Racine, Wisconsin. Their parents were Otto H. and Gertrude Suderland. In 1933 they moved back to Germany, but they did not stay long. Hitler and the Nazis were on the rise and the family fled back to Milwaukee. Otto H. was one of the workers hired to work on the construction of the new ‘Greenbelt Town’ of Greendale.  

In June of 1938 the family rented a farm at 5651 S. 51st Street, now the intersection of Eastway and 51st Street. Otto H. stayed on as a Public Works employee in the new community.  A younger brother, Jerome, and a sister Evelyn grew up on the farm along with Otto and Fritz. Otto (son) purchased the farm in 1952 and sold it to Milwaukee Community Development Corporation (MCDC) when the area around 51st Street was expanding with single family homes (see Week#72). The MCDC then sold the property to the Greendale Baptist Church for $1 in July of 1963 (see Week#62).

Otto and Fritz served in the US Military, married, raised families and stayed in the Milwaukee area. Greendale and Nazi Germany are continents apart, but linked together by the Suderland family. At times it truly is a small world.

Greendale Trivia Question and Answer:

Week#38 Answer – No answers so far to last week’s question. Maybe the two time capsules, buried in 1988 and 1998 have been forgotten. We’ll have to do some research to find the answers.

Week #37 Question – Here’s one for you history buffs. Nine Presidents have taken the oath of office unexpectedly. Without doing any research (i.e. from memory) can you name at least four of them and give the reason why?  

** Week #37 contributors Sally Chadwick, Greendale Historical Society, Otto and Fritz Suderland, Wikipedia, Library of Congress.

Cheryl Sanders January 23, 2013 at 02:04 PM
Dave- Can you (or anyone else) tell me what year classes were first held at Highland View Elementary? Was it 1961-62 or 1962-63? I need to know for a project I am doing at the school... no one seems to know the answer, I even checked with the school administration.
David J Miller January 29, 2013 at 04:07 PM
Cheryl. The date I have for Highland View's opening is 1963. Not sure if that is the school year (62-63) or (63-64) There is a way to perhaps check out the exact year. I'll get back to you.
Cheryl Sanders January 29, 2013 at 05:22 PM
Thanks Dave - I'll be anxiously awaiting your answer!
David J Miller January 29, 2013 at 10:33 PM
Cheryl. I found a note saying the Highland View opened in September of 1961. That's earlier than I originally noted. That can be perhaps be verified by reading the the copies of the Village Life in September of 1961 that are stored at the Library. I'll do that when I get a chance.

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