Cradock History

Our Namesake:
Sir Christopher George Francis Maurice Cradock (1862-1914)


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Christopher George Francis Maurice Cradock was born on 2 July 1862, in Yorkshire and entered the Royal Navy in 1875. In 1878 Cradock was present at the British occupation of Cyprus, serving as a midshipman. Cradock was promoted Rear-Admiral in 1910, by which time he had established himself as the author of numerous works. Created KVCO in 1912, Cradock was appointed to the command of the North American and West Indies station the following year, 1913. With the declaration of war in August 1914 Cradock was given responsibility for protecting the North American coast from St. Lawrence to Brazil; and, from October with the pursuit of German Admiral Graf von Spee’s fleet of commerce raiders with his own somewhat old and inferior 4th Squadron. Having located Spee’s force, Cradock engaged them in battle but was hopelessly outfought, with Spee able to call upon Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Leipzig, Dresden and Nurnberg. Within two hours his force was decimated, including both main ships Good Hope (the flagship) and Monmouth, with some 1,600 men drowned. Cradock fought and lost an unequal battle with Spee on 1 November 1914 at Coronel (near Chile), losing his own life in the process and sowing seeds of doubt as to the ability of Britain’s Royal Navy to rule the seas during the initial months of the war.

The community was named after Sir Christopher Cradock, the British commander of the North American and West Indian stations who died when his ship was sunk by German vessels during the 1914 Battle of Coronel off the coast of central Chile. It is unknown whether the the United States or the British Admiralty nominated Sir Cradock’s name for this new community. What the naming of Cradock did was set the tone in naming future government-sponsored communities in the nation after military heroes.


Our Community:

Cradock was one of the nation’s first government—built planned communities along with the neighboring Truxtun. Conceived as a model community, it incorporated many of the most advanced planning techniques of its day. The construction was funded through an act of Congress in 1918 which allowed the Federal Government to build housing projects related to the wartime efforts.

Most of the features of the present-day planned community including schools, recreational areas, commercial area, and public
transportation where provided for Cradock. All facilities where within walking distance of one another. The town pioneered the use of concealed utility lines. The town had its own government built schools, fire house, sewerage, water system and electric street lighting system. Afton Parkway, the major traffic boulevard, also carried the street car line. The street car line ran to the Naval Shipyard, Portsmouth, and other suburban areas. When WWI ended in 1920, the US Housing Corporation was unable to continue to assume the cost of public services forcing the orphaned community to assume self government until Norfolk County was able to adopt Cradock in 1922. Courtesy Cradock & Truxtun Design and Rehabilitation Guidelines and History by the Alumni and Friends of Cradock, INC.

Cradock was government-built housing for shipyard workers with construction beginning in 1918. Because shipyard workers were housed in overcrowded and/or temporary quarters, Congress authorized the construction of those areas believing that worker housing would have a direct impact on ship construction. Ironically, it was the Newport News Shipyard president, Homer Ferguson, who initially approached Congress for funding to construct housing for its workers. However, it would be in Portsmouth with the Cradock community, in which funding would be appropriated, for the construction of the nation’s first government-funded housing.

The town of Cradock was built on 310 acres of land, located three miles south of City of Portsmouth. George B. Post & Sons, a New York architectural firm, was contracted to design this first federally planned community in the nation. The engineering firms of Hill and Ferguson, G.C. and A.E. Wheeler would pioneer the use of concealed utility lines, which were placed on median strips or behind houses, electric lights, indoor bathrooms, and individual telephones.

The early town had government-built schools, fire station, sewage and water systems, electric street lighting system, individual phone lines, recreational area, churches, commercial area, and a public transportation system. The town also had a government-built school, firehouse, sewerage, water system, and electric street lighting system. Afton Parkway, the major traffic boulevard in the town, carried a street car line which ran to the Naval Shipyard and other suburban areas.

Cradock was a self-governing town until 1922 when Norfolk County took over its administration. By 1960, the City of Portsmouth annexed Cradock.


Cradock Design Development:

The community was and remains mainly a working class community, consisting mostly of single-family and two-family houses and 15 to 20 feet wide row or terrace houses. The houses are small and simple, but comfortable.

Many homes have a 8′ x 10′ summer kitchen in the rear of the house. This was an unusual feature brought into the scheme because of the steamy summer climate of coastal Virginia. Unlike Truxtun, every house in Cradock has clothes and linen closets, a supply closet in the kitchen, and a coat closet in the entrance hall or living room. The houses are mostly clapboard and wood frame construction. A small proportion of them are treated with stucco lath either over the entire surface or first or second story. Elements of such styles as English Cottage, Bungalow, Dutch Colonial and Colonial Revival can be found in the six styles of houses. Porches, floor plans and roof lines were varied to avoid repetition. Details for the Cradock homes were standardized, colonial treatments. The architects devised certain details for doorways, porches, shutters, windows and other parts so that the cost of producing the material was greatly reduced by the repetition.

Of the 1,235 houses originally planned for the community, 759 were completed, with an average lot of 4,100 square feet. The Housing Corporation assumed costs of $4,930.00 per family.

Cradock’s most prominent feature is Afton Square, which is similar to the town common found in many New England communities.


Afton Square:

Afton Square was created to be the focal point of the Cradock community. The Square was designed to provide the community with retail stores, a theater, community center and a community gathering place. One floor apartments were provided over many of the retail stores. The structures were primarily of wood or masonry with large expanses of plate glass, ideally suited for merchandise. Signage was integrated within the front facades. Over the years, storefronts have fallen victim to inappropriate renovations in the name of modernization. Instead of compatible original materials, storefronts have been masked with aluminum and plywood panels.
The following components should be carefully considered when renovating a commercial store front.

Afton Square Display Window
The large glass is designed for street level product display. It is the most immediately apparent characteristic of the typical commercial storefront. These windows should not be altered during renovation. The window frames, typically wooden, may need replacement. If so, the mullion pattern should match the original pattern. If the wooden frame can be salvaged.

Traditionally, canvas awnings were incorporated for protection from the sun and weather, for color, and as a transitional element between the upper facade and the storefront. Awnings should be mounted between the tope of the glass and below the sign panel. The bottom edge of the awning should be approximately seven feet above the sidewalk. Aluminum awnings are not historically accurate and are not recommended.

The original signage location was integrated into the storefront system. A paneled area, appropriate for signage, usually occurred directly above the canopy and below the second floor window. Signage often occurred on the upper portion of the display windows and on the front-most portion of the awning valance. The signage locations should be reinforced when renovating or replacing storefront construction. Neon signs are not acceptable.

Entry Doors
Entry doors should be attractive as well as compatible with the architectural style of the storefront. If the original doors are intact, repair and refinish them. If not, try to match the original door or at least its proportion. If this cannot be accomplished, choose an unobtrusive, simply designed door that will not clash with the character of the building.