Greenbelt’s First Family
September 30, October 1
Who was the first family in Greenbelt? Cathy Knepper’s book “Greenbelt, Maryland: A Living Legacy of the New Deal” contains this intriguing sentence on page 209: “At the 1988 Labor Day festival… celebrants also unveiled a plaque marking the first home occupied in Greenbelt, 1G Gardenway, whose residents moved in on September 30, 1937.” On Sunday, September 30, 2012, exactly 75 years after the first residents moved into Greenbelt, I went to 1G Gardenway to check out the plaque.
1 Court Gardenway
Both 1A and 1B face Gardenway. Here the row on the left contains 1C, 1D, 1E, and 1F Gardenway. In this photo, the service side of 1D has tomatoes in its yard, and that of 1E has a clothesline and a flag.
Now, my destination, 1G Gardenway. There is no plaque in this photo.
There is no plaque in this photo either.
I knock on the service-side door and a lady answers. I tell her that I am doing a photo project on the city’s 75th anniversary and understand that her house has a plaque. She immediately asks whether I’d like to take a photo of it. When I answer yes, she tells me that the plaque is on the other side of the house and invites me to walk around through her yard.
When I get to the gardenside, the plaque is right there.
FIRST HOME OCCUPIED
SEPTEMBER 30, 1937
JULIAN AND HAZEL ASHLEY
So the Ashley family was the first family in Greenbelt.
This is a view of 1G Gardenway, from the public walkway, with the plaque clearly visible.
Another view of the row farther away. Again, the plaque is visible.
I return to the service side and knock on the door again. I ask the lady whether she is a member of the Ashley family, and she says no. She moved here in 1992, twenty years ago, and the plaque was already here. (Knepper says in her book the plaque was installed during Labor Day festival in 1988.) I then ask whether she bought the house from the Ashley family. She says no and thinks there might be one or two owners in between. She tells me that one year, the Ashley daughter came back and a photographer took a photo of her by the plaque. She does not remember her married name or when that happened but guesses it should be on the occasion of the 60th anniversary in 1997. Finally, I ask whether I can take a photo of her by the plaque. She declines because she does not think it will add to the story. I then thank her and take my leave.
Because the library is closed on Sunday, on the next day, I stop by Tugwell Room in Greenbelt Library.
The file cabinets here contain old issues of the Greenbelt News Review.
I am looking for photographs from the 1988 Labor Day festival when the plaque was installed.
I look through a few issues of the paper from early September on. This is the September 29, 1988 issue.
On page 7 of the September 29, 1988 issue: “County councilman Richard Castaldi looks at the plaque he has just unveiled in the Labor Day ceremony. Appearing in the picture are, left to right, present member-owner Dorothy Groark, Castaldi, Frank Dealing, Dorma Ashley Dealing (member of the first family to live in the house), city councilmember Tom White, Mayor Gil Weidenfeld, 1988 Outstanding Citizen Bruce Bowman, GHI staff member John Swats, and city councilmember Toni Bram.”
I googled Dorma Ashley Dealing and found out that she passed away on July 8, 2009. Dorma Ashley was born on July 2, 1921 so she was 16 when she moved to Greenbelt on September 30, 1937 with her parents. I then looked up the July 2009 issues of the Greenbelt News Review (which are online) and, sure enough, found a note written by Kathleen McFarland in the July 23, 2009 issue: “We were sorry to hear of the death on July 8, 2009, of pioneer Greenbelter Dorma Ashley Dealing of Middletown, Md. The Ashleys were the first family to move into the new town of Greenbelt, moving to 1-G Gardenway in September 1937. Dorma was one of the five members of Greenbelt High School’s first graduating class in 1938. Their classes were held in Center School (now the Community Center) since the high school building was not yet completed.”
While I was in Tugwell Room, I tried also to see if there is a photo of Dorma Ashley Dealing with the plaque at the 60th anniversary reunion. I did not find any in the News Review. Dealing did attend the reunion, and in the October 23, 1997 issue, Pat Unger writes: “Dorma Ashley Dealing, a member of the very first family to move in, told fond stories of her parents. Pictures of four generations and even e-mail addresses were exchanged during the joyous afternoon.”
Because the 1937 issues of the News Review (then Cooperator) are also online, Google points me to the December 8, 1937 issue. On page 5: “YOUNG PEOPLE MEET TO FORM ASSOCIATION: A meeting was held November 19 at 1G Gardenway to bring together the young people of Greenbelt between the ages of 15 and 21. Those attending were: Lassie Thurston, Varina Craig, Deloras Carr, Mary Clare Bonham, Dorma Ashley, Nathelia Sandman. Those interested watch for notices of time and place of next meeting.” [Note: This issue apparently misspelled Lossie Thurston’s first name.]
Next week’s issue, published on December 15, 1937, reports that on December 10, another meeting of the “Young Peoples’ Association” was held at 1G Gardenway and again Dorma Ashley, Lossie Thurston, Varina Craig and others attended. Dorma Ashely was elected vice president and Lossie Thurston treasurer.
Of course, there were no photos in the 1937 issues, but Google also pointed me to another article by Kathleen McFarland in the June 29, 2006 issue of the Greenbelt News Review. Greenbelt High School graduates had a reunion on May 6, 2006 at the American Legion, and here is a photo with the caption: “Dorma Ashley Dealing (center) with lifelong friends Lossie Thurston Falter and Varina Craig McGowan, both from the class of ’39.”
“The Ashleys had been the first family to move into the new town of Greenbelt, moving from Forest Glen to 1-G Gardenway in September 1937. Dorma ﬁrst transferred from Montgomery Blair in Silver Spring to Bladensburg High School. At the March semester break in 1938 Greenbelt High School was opened, holding classes in Center School, since the high school building was not yet ﬁnished. Dorma was the only girl in the senior class of ﬁve members.”
So here is the story of a member of the first family in Greenbelt:
July 2, 1921: Dorma Ashley was born in Quantico, Virginia. Her father was in the military.
September 30, 1937: 16-year-old Dorma Ashley moved with her parents Julian and Hazel Ashley into 1G Gardenway, becoming the first residents in the new town of Greenbelt.
November 19, 1937: Less than two months after the Ashleys moved in, a meeting was held at their home at 1G Gardenway to form a youth association. Those attending included Dorma Ashley, Lossie Thurston, and Varina Craig.
December 10, 1937: Next month, another meeting was held at 1G Gardenway. Again Dorma Ashley, Lossie Thurston, and Varina Craig and others attended. Dorma Ashely was elected vice president and Lossie Thurston treasurer.
(Between 1937 and 2002, information is not easily searchable because those issues of the Greenbelt News Review have not been scanned.)
Labor Day, 1988: Dorma Ashley Dealing and her husband Frank Dealing were at 1G Gardenway with a plaque commemorating her family’s move into Greenbelt. The GHI member of the unit then was Dorothy Groark.
October 1997: Dorma Ashley Dealing attended the city’s 60th anniversary reunion and “told fond stories of her parents.”
May 6, 2006: Dorma Ashley Dealing attended a Greenbelt High School reunion at American Legion and was photographed with her lifelong friends Lossie Thurston Falter and Varina Craig McGowan. 69 years ago, they had attended the first meetings of the “Young Peoples’ Association” at 1G Gardenway.
July 8, 2009: Dorma Ashley Dealing passed away at Frederick Memorial Hospital.