Holding on to a Bygone Era

Holding on to a Bygone Era

Residents of the Green Acres subdivision in Great Falls refuse to surrender their lifelong community to new development.

Last November Great Falls residents Gail and Hilda Holdaway received a letter from Elite Homes. The retired couple found the first sentence of the letter to be particularly upsetting.

"It said ‘we are developing a community,’" said Hilda Holdaway. "Well we don't need a new community. We have a community already — it's Green Acres and it's going to stay that way. That letter made me so mad."

The letter, which was also sent out to each of the Holdaway's neighbors, informed the Green Acres subdivision residents of Elite Homes' interest in buying their houses and properties in order to build a new neighborhood. The company has already started construction on two large homes at the end of the road.

HILDA HOLDAWAY WAS BORN in Great Falls and has lived there her whole life. She and her husband moved into their home on Miller Avenue in May of 1960, and her brother and his family lived just behind them, one neighborhood over.

"Everything here is special to me and I'm not leaving," she said.

She added that "aside from loving our home and loving where we are," there are other more practical reasons for staying.

"We're only one mile from the professional fire department, we are less than five miles from the police department, and we are five minutes from our doctors," said Holdaway. "I have had friends that have moved away from here, and they have travel 50 miles to see their doctor and I just think that is so silly."

The Holdaway's are not alone in their determination to live out their lives in the homes where they have spent most of their existence.

"I don't have any plans of leaving," said Paul Sandoe, who has lived in the Green Acres subdivision since the 1950s. "Several people in the neighborhood have put nice, new additions on their houses. I can't imagine that they would go through all of that just to have them torn down."

Residents of Green Acres also say that even their ever increasing real estate taxes are not enough to scare them away.

"My taxes have tripled," said Sandoe. "I was paying $200 a year when I first moved here. But it's still cheaper than rent. If I tried to go out and find a condo or an apartment around here right now, I'd have to pay $1400 a month. My taxes would have to go up a whole bunch for me to get out of here."

MANY OF THE RESIDENTS of the Green Acres subdivision are part of a generation that has seen quite a few changes in their hometown over the last 50 years.

"Miller Avenue used to be gravel, there were no street lights and the only amenity that we had was natural gas," said Sandoe.

Hilda Holdaway says she remembers when it was easy to turn out of their subdivision on to Georgetown Pike.

"We could go down Miller, look left and look right and then go," she said. "Now you have to sit there for 10 minutes before you can go. The traffic is really bad. It used to be that after 3 or 3:30 it was bad, but now it just seems like it is constant."

Kenneth Donaldson has lived on Ellsworth Avenue since 1962. Although technically not a part of the Green Acres subdivision, the Holdaways and their neighbors consider him to be an honorary member. Donaldson said that he too will never leave Great Falls, even though it is not quite the same place that it was when he moved there.

"This used to be a community that was intertwined with everybody," said Donaldson. "The firehouse was the focal point — it was all volunteer. We had Forestville Day and carnivals and baseball games...anything and everything that you could think of was done for the kids. It was just wonderful to live here."

Donaldson said the changes do not matter much to him since he is older and retired, but he sometimes marvels at the fact that the younger generation of Great Falls residents "don't know how good it was."

"Everybody knew everybody and if anybody needed anything they got it," said Donaldson. "There were no squabbles."

Donaldson says that he is saddened to see real estate property taxes taking a toll on some of his friends who own farmland. Although the county does make tax provisions for older, retired residents, Donaldson said large landowners do not benefit from these programs.

"People like that are being pushed out regardless," he said.

Although Sandoe, Donaldson, the Holdaway's and many of their neighbors do not planning on selling their homes to anyone, they all fear for the long-term future of their community.

"I don't see things changing back to the way they were unless people get tired of trying to keep up with Joneses," said Hilda Holdaway. "But I'm just a plain person, and I just don't feel the need to do that."

Her husband says that he thinks it is only a matter of time before their neighborhood will fall victim to new development.

"Seven years from now this will all be townhouses," said Gail Holdaway.

Representatives from Elite Homes did not return phone calls to The Connection.