Greenbelt’s first July 4th was a very special celebration, brimming with the enthusiasm of the earliest residents about their new town.
The first families moved in in the Fall of 1937, with many more moving in Spring of 1938. July 4th was one of the first large scale celebrations in the brand new New Deal community of Greenbelt. Many activities were based at the freshly opened Greenbelt Lake. The swimming pool would not open until the next summer, so residents were anxious to swim in the lake. A lifeguard had been hired and he gave a safety demonstration as part of the holiday program. Sadly, swimming in the lake was very short lived due to a discovery of excessive bacteria in the water. Also at the lake for the 4th were concessions run by the Citizen’s Association featuring carnival style games: a shooting gallery, the milk bottle game, bingo. Ice cream and balloons were available for purchase.
Elsewhere in town the cooperative grocery store sold fireworks out front all day! They assured customers that these were very safe and family friendly. There was a bicycle parade, bike races, a pie eating contest, and a community sing along that featured a first run of the new Greenbelt song. At dusk, the day was capped off by a fireworks display. 5,000 people attended the festivities. Residents had been urged to stay in town for the holiday, and to invite others. The population was about 2500, so guests did augment the attendance!
The celebration turned out so well that a grand tradition of July 4th celebrations was begun. Parades, the firehouse dedication in 1961, and many many fireworks displays have been enjoyed over these 80+ years. Check out the rest of the program from 1956 below.
Though this year we won’t see fireworks due to the pandemic health crisis, the traditional well loved celebrations should continue in the future. Happy July 4th from the Greenbelt Museum!