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Greendale's 75th Coundown: 572 'Pioneers' Move In!

Week #70: Read about why 572 families took a chance and were the first to move into Greendale. And meet someone from this generation who emboides the 'Spirit of Greendale'.

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

How to find the Countdown on Patch!

If you are just learning about these weekly stories and want to read the ones you’ve missed, Viviana the fabulous editor of Patch has made that easy to do. Just click on the News section, find the link to Greendale’s 75th Birthday Countdown in the drop down list and click on it. Easy as 1, 2, 3.

History and Folklore!

It’s a Sunday afternoon in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the fall of 1936. The Sunday meal is over. Jane is finishing up the dishes, the kids are running around playing tag, and George is relaxing with a pipe in his comfy chair. “George! Let’s go for a ride. Why don’t we go see that new place they’re
building? It’s named Green… something.” “Oh, Ok. Kids get in the car. We’re going for a ride.”

Between the fall of 1936 and the summer of 1937 riding out to see what was happening southwest of Milwaukee is what over a half million people did. Greendale was being built on farmland 8 ½ miles from Milwaukee where city transportation did not reach. So why did 572 families decide to become pioneers and move to this government planned community?

Many basic services and amenities would not be available in the first year of occupancy. So why was there so much interest and desire to try this new experiment in rural living?

Before answering that question, here are some historically significant facts. If you’re not a fact person feel free to skip past them, but you’ll be sorry……..

To Read Facts Start Here:

  • Greendale is one of three Greenbelt communities established by the federal government in the 1930’s. A  Greenbelt is basically a center core community surrounded by a large green circle. Greendale is the third and last Greenbelt Community to be built in the United States. Other Greenbelt communities are Greenbelt, MD and Greenhills, OH.
  • February, 1937 – First model home opened at 5503 Acorn Court.
  • Family income had to be between $1,000 and $2,400 per year to be approved for tenancy.  One family income was counted as it was strictly regulated that only one of the parents would work.
  • In 1938 the federal government built the most single family detached homes ever in a federal project. Greendale had 366 structures comprised of 572 units (274 one family units, 208 various size row houses, and 90 twin units). Greenbelt had 885 units and Greenhills had 676 units.
  • Mr. & Mrs. Allen G. Koschin and daughters Marilyn and Gloria became the first tenants approved on April 17, 1938. The first families moved in on April 30, 1938: Art Wilkums, Ken Getters, Fabian W. Strong, Ernest Knudsen and Otto Rathmans.
  • Homes rented from $19.00 to $32.50 per month. Garage rental was separate at $2.50 per month. Electricity charges were $2.65 to $4.10 per month. Water charges were $.65 to 1.30 per month.

To Skip Facts Start Here:

The 1930’s were the time of the Great Depression following the stock market crash of 1929. Millions of Americans were unemployed and living in slum conditions in U.S. cities. Rents were high and unstable. Families were discriminated against. To help solve the unemployment and housing crisis the idea of creating jobs building “Greenbelt Towns” became part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “New Deal”. The Greenbelt communities offered clean, modern housing for middle income families. It is a misconception that low income, poor families moved to Greendale. That was not the case. Renters were families with employment and an annual income in the mid-range for that time. The government was the landlord but each community was designed to be self supportive.

So why did 572 families become ‘Pioneers’ and move to Greendale? Because they wanted stability in their living conditions, a fresh start outside of the crowded city, a better place to live and raise their children. Their willingness to go on this adventure created what today is still referred to as the ‘Spirit of Greendale’.

But did you know? There were very few phones in Greendale until after WWII. The Police/Fire Department and Village Hall had the only phones. After WWII phones became more common in homes. The prefix for Greendale was GA, which stood for garden. The first pay phone in the village (date unknown) was located in Village Hall. It cost $.05 to call Hales Corners and $.10 to call Milwaukee. 

People, Past & Present!

Editor’s Warning! If you are still working and get up every morning grumpy and dreading the workday, close your browser or put down this printed story immediately! If you read on make sure a family member is nearby that knows how to dial 911.

Every morning Margo Kuehn wakes up in her house on Alba Street smiling, lets Angel out for a run in the back yard (note: dog, not child), and on excitedly gets ready for work. Of course Margo does not think of it as work, it is her joy. She feels blessed to be doing what she loves. When I stopped by to chat in the store she owns in the Greendale Village Center on Broad Street it did not take long to know I was with someone special.

Margo grew up in Whitefish Bay and for 25 years worked as a dance teacher and choreographer. She taught jazz, tap, and ballet classes. She also worked with the Milwaukee Ballet, community theatre and high school productions. One of the schools she worked with, Wauwatosa East, was regularly selected as the best musical in the area and was chosen to perform at the Pabst Theatre. In the later of those 25 years she worked with her father in his machining business in Oak Creek. There she gained some hands on business experience. When her father retired in his 80’s and sold the business it was time to decide ‘What to do next’.

By this time she had already been living in Greendale for 5 years. Teaching dance lessons all around the area she was familiar with the community. And as a youth she remembers family visits with a cousin who lived in Greendale. When she started looking to purchase a house she only wanted to look at ‘originals’ near the Village of Greendale center. Luckily, she found the perfect one for her and for 13 years has called Alba Street home sweet home.

Margo wanted to know more about the history of Greendale, so she joined the Greendale Historical Society. She went to meetings, attended seminars, met her neighbors, and was introduced to a woman who was traveling to visit Greenbelt, MD. She went on that trip and rode in the 4th of July parade as a visitor from Greendale. How cool was that!

One evening Margo and her friend Kathy were at Ricardo’s Pizza when a couple Kathy knew came into the restaurant and they started talking. Talking led to dinner and an evening of chatter. Later, this businessman contacted Margo and suggested she work for him. She had never considered being in retail sales, but gave it a try. Surprise, she was good at it. She started thinking about her own business and while at a trade show noticed the crowds of people around the jewelry display. Greendale did not have a shop like that. She always liked clothes and jewelry, so she opened ‘’ 8 years ago this April. Then last year she opened . Margo’s features clothes small to XL, and more Margo’s features plus sizes. Both stores sell jewelry.

As amazing as this tale has been so far, the real story is Margo. She only has one facial expression, a smile. Her cheeriness was so infectious that after a half hour I wanted to report her to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta. I personally could never be that happy or smiley. But she did make me smile and we had a great time. I got to talk with a few customers and see firsthand why she is so successful. She loves what she does and customers feel that. Her customers range in ages from 30 to 70, come from all over the area, and word of mouth is her best advertising. So if some day you’re feeling particularly gloomy drop in and say hi to Margo and check out her stores. Your day will get brighter. Margo truly embodies the ‘Spirit of Greendale’.

Greendale Trivia Question and Answer:

The first businesses established on Broad Street were Co-op Food Store - 9/25/38, Barber Shop - 12/1/38, Post Office - 12/16/38, Drug Store - 4/15/39, Theatre – 4/29/39, Dry Goods & Variety - 6/22/39, Shoe Service & Valet – 8/30/39, Beauty Shop - 9/21/39.

Week#70 Question – What year did St. Alphonsus Parish hold its first service and where?

** Week #70 contributors Sally Chadwick, Steve Peters, and Margo Kuehn. 

pooksilby April 03, 2012 at 12:06 PM
I'm pretty sure the family income was NOT $1,000 to $2400 per MONTH in 1938. I think that should be per YEAR!

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