Cradock: One of America’s First Planned Communities (Portsmouth, VA)

In 1918, while the War to End All Wars was raging in Europe, Cradock (a neighborhood in Portsmouth, VA) was born.

The US Government funded the creation of Cradock, and the implementation of the Garden City Concept (originally developed in the United Kingdom in 1898) was carried out by the United States Housing Corporation.

The USHC modeled their designs and standards for neighborhood planning on the Garden City model, which were self-contained, purposefully designed neighborhoods with a balance of residential housing, churches, schools, physicians, businesses, and other commerce.

In Cradock, a trolley down the main street (Prospect Parkway) carried workers to the nearby Norfolk Naval Shipyard (also in Portsmouth, despite the misleading name).

According to a National Registry application for this historic community, early advertisements for Cradock described it as “The Garden Spot of Tidewater.”

Named after British admiral Christopher Cradock, it was  hoped that the independent community would blend the positive features of city living with the quiet enjoyment of country life.

At the height of the war, the NNSY employed more than 11,000 people. By 1923, that number had returned to pre-war levels (about 2500). In 1920, the US government decided that Cradock was costing taxpayers too much money, and The US Housing Corporation abandoned the city. In local periodicals, Cradock became known as “The Orphan City.” In 1922, Norfolk Couny annexed the community.

In subsequent years, more homes were built in Cradock and that’s what piqued my interest. Cradock is home to several kit homes from Sears, Aladdin, and other early 20th Century kit homes.

What is a kit home? In the early 1900s, you could order almost anything out of a mail-order catalog. From 1908-1940, you could order a kit home from Sears and Roebuck! The 12,000-piece kits were shipped by rail and came with a 75-page catalog that told you how all those pieces and parts went together!

Today, the only way to find these homes is literally one by one. And Cradock has several!

Through years of research, I’ve learned that more than 75% of all Sears Homeowners had no idea about the historic origins of their home until they talked to me and/or discovered their home on this website. Do these homeowners in Cradock know what they have?

Thanks so much to Lara for driving me around on her day off! 🙂

Enjoy the photos and please share the link on your Facebook page.

To learn more about Cradock, click here.

Do you live in a Sears Home? Learn how to identify these kit homes here.

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Cradock

Cradock was based on "The Garden City" model, which became hugely popular in the early 1900s. Neighborhoods were self-contained with residential housing, businesses, banks, doctors, schools and post offices - all within one walkable area.

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A green-space and communal area was part of Cradocks original design.

A green-space and communal area was part of Cradock's original design. I'd love to know if the bandstand was original to the area, or was a modern-day addition.

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Sears offered about 370 designs of kit homes through their early 20th Century mail-order catalogs, but here in southeastern Virginia, Ive found more Aladdin kit homes than Sears. The Aladdin Capitol was one of their fancier homes (1937 catalog).

Sears offered about 370 designs of kit homes through their early 20th Century mail-order catalogs, but here in southeastern Virginia, I've found more Aladdin kit homes than Sears. Aladdin was based in Michigan, but had a huge mill in Wilmington, NC. The Aladdin Capitol (shown above) was one of their fancier homes (1931 catalog).

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Located on Dahlgren Avenue, this Aladdin Capitol is in wonderful condition.

Located on Dahlgren Avenue, this Aladdin "Capitol" is in wonderful condition.

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And its a perfect match to the old catalog image.

And it's a perfect match to the old catalog image.

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Do the homeowners know they have a kit home? Probably not. Based on my research, more than 75% of the people living in these homes dont realize what they have.

Do the homeowners know they have a kit home? Probably not. Based on my research, more than 75% of the people living in these homes don't realize what they have.

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The Aladdin Mitchell was a hugely popular home for Sears.

The Sears Mitchell was a hugely popular home for Sears (1928).

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Is this a Sears Mitchell? My guess it - probably - but its hard to know for sure because Aladdin also sold a model that looked just like the Sears Mitchell.

Is this a Sears Mitchell? My guess is - possibly - but it's hard to know for sure because Aladdin also sold a model that looked just like the Sears Mitchell. In addition, there were a couple "plan book" houses that resembled the Sears Mitchell. It'd be fun to get inside this house and figure out if it is a Sears Mitchell.

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The Sears Walton was also a very popular model, and is probably one of the top ten most popular models offered by Sears (1928).

The Sears Walton was also a very popular model, and is probably one of the top ten most popular models offered by Sears (1928).

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Picture perfect in every way.

Picture perfect in every way. Notice it has the three-window bay (partially hidden by a pine tree) and the box window on the home's front. The home's attic is a bit higher than the Walton, which was a common "customization" intended to create additional living space.

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The Aladdin Madison was a perennial favorite for Aladdin customers. The house was offered in several floorplans.

The Aladdin Madison was a perennial favorite for Aladdin customers. The house was offered in several floorplans and for several years.

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He

Close-up of the three-bedroom floorplan.

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Just around the corner from the Sears Walton was this Aladdin Madison, Floorplan C with the three bedrooms.

Just around the corner from the Sears Walton was this Aladdin Madison, "Floorplan C" with the three bedrooms. That front porch addition is unfortunate.

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On the main drag through Cradock is the Alhambra.

On the main drag through Cradock (where the trolly line once ran) is the Alhambra.

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This always has been, and always will be, one of my favorite houses in all of Hampton Roads. In 2003, I gave a talk at a bookstore and the owner didnt promote the talk. Four people showed up and two of them were the owners of this Alhambra. I followed them home (per their invitation) and was given a full tour of this beautiful home.

This always has been, and always will be, one of my favorite houses in all of Hampton Roads. In 2003, I gave a talk at a bookstore and the owner didn't promote the talk. Four people showed up and two of them were the owners of this Alhambra. I followed them home (per their invitation) and was given a full tour of this beautiful home. This Alhambra had been built by the owner's own father, and the family had always cherished and appreciated this home.

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The Montrose is another big and beautiful kit home, and this one is on Gillis Road.

The Montrose is another big and beautiful kit home, and this one is on Gillis Road.

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This Dutch Colonial is in beautiful shape considering that its almost 90 years old.

This Dutch Colonial is in beautiful shape considering that it's almost 90 years old. That assymetrical gabled entry with small window is a distinctive feature of the Montrose. On this house, the front window and entry were "swapped" and if you study the home's floorplan, this is a simple switch to make. More than 30% of Sears Homes were modified when built.

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The Sears Conway (also known as The Uriel) was another popular model.

The Sears Conway (also known as "The Uriel") was another popular model. Like so many of these kit homes, it also had an expandable attic.

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House

The substitute siding on this house doesn't do it any favors, and many of the home's unique features went bye-bye when that siding went up, but it's still identifiable as a Sears Conway.

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THere were six companies selling kit homes on a national level, and Sterling Homes (based in Bay City, Michigan) was one of them. Shown here is the Sterling Avondale (1920 catalog).

THere were six companies selling kit homes on a national level, and Sterling Homes (based in Bay City, Michigan) was one of them. Shown here is the Sterling "Avondale" (1920 catalog).

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Is this a Sterling Avondale? It sure looks like it!

Is this a Sterling "Avondale"? It sure looks like it! The privacy fence on the left hides the details, but the windows down the left side are a perfect match.

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Last but not least is the Aladdin Concord (1937).

Last but not least is the Aladdin Concord (1937).

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Check out some of the details on this fine Cape Cod.

Check out some of the details on this fine Cape Cod: Squared columns, pilasters, gabled porch, sidelights by the front door and cut-out shutters.

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Now thats a nice match!

Now that's a nice match!

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You may notice that the front porch gable is a little off, but it appears that the house in Cradock has had some repairs.

You may notice that the front porch gable is a little off, but it appears that the house in Cradock has had some repairs to its porch gable. Notice that it's now made of plywood. It would not have been built with a plywood front in the 1930s.

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Cradock was a very progressive idea in its time, and it endured well into the 1950s, but in more recent years, its come upon some hard times. Perhaps highlighting the significant collection of Sears Homes within Cradock can help restore some homeowner pride in this historically significant community. (Image above is from the University of Richmonds archives.)

Cradock was a very progressive idea in its time, and it endured well into the 1950s, but in more recent years, it's come upon some hard times. Perhaps highlighting the significant collection of Sears Homes within Cradock can help restore some "homeowner pride" in this historically significant community. (Image above is from the University of Richmond's archives.)

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To learn more about Cradock, click here.

Do you live in a Sears Home? Learn how to identify these kit homes here.

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7 Comments

  1. Jim Bell

    My Mom and Dad brought a house in Cradock Gardens and my Mom still lives in her home for 69 years.

    She is proud to live in Cradock and intends to stay in her house till the Good Lord calls her home. Miss seeing CRADOCK HIGH SCHOOL when I go to Mom’s house.

  2. Roy Kelley

    The original trolley in Cradock was on Afton Parkway which lead to George Washington Highway (Route 17) for those going to the shipyard or downtown.

  3. Donna Robertson Thomas

    My family moved to Cradock around 1954 and we lived there for 4 years.

    I attended Cradock Elementary (which had been the high school til Cradock High School on Route 17 was built. I attended 7th grade for one year before we moved.

    My brother attended James Hurst Elementary. Mom taught 5th grade at Cradock Elementary.

    We liked Cradock; it was a town, not a suburb. Going to the movies in the heart of town on Saturdays, getting cherry or vanilla cokes at the soda fountain near the Afton movie theater, knowing all the pretty churches and streets.

    It was a great town to be a kid in. Even though I’ve lived in Philadelphia for almost 50 years, your article brought back good memories.

    I recognize many of the houses in your photos, remembered many of my classmates who lived here and there, and coincidentally am also a fan of Sears Roebuck homes and other kit homes.

    I can spot them everywhere around here, in the older suburbs. Thanks for the article!

    Donna (Robertson) Thomas

  4. Joan Coley Mercer

    My mother was born at home on Cushing Street, grew up on Gillis Road, and has lived in her home now for 70 some years.

    Those four homes were built by Mr. Perry and are based on the floor plans from the Worlds Fair in New York.

  5. Tom Luke

    “A green-space and communal area was part of Cradock’s original design. I’d love to know if the bandstand was original to the area, or was a modern-day addition.”

    The bandstand was original to the area but did not start life in that location.

    It was originally located in the median on Prospect Parkway at Afton Parkway between what is now the Presbyterian Church and the Library.

    Sometime around the mid 1960s, it was uprooted, placed on a large flatbed trailer and hauled down Afton Parkway (on the wrong side of the traffic flow if I remember correctly) to its current location.

    If the 1954 photo (above) of the bakery and the Cradock Food Market on Afton Parkway had included a view a little more to the left, you would see that it wasn’t there when that picture was taken.

    My father shot 8mm home movies of it but I am not certain if the film survived. I was around 7 years old at the time and I still remember the men involved in the move lifting the power lines so the structure could pass beneath them.

    My father was born in Cradock and we lived there for the first 12 years of my life in our house on Sampson Place.

  6. Kim Koontz

    Hello,

    My father grew up in Cradock and went to Cradock HS. Their house was located on Decatur St. I remember as a young girl walking down the street to Afton Square to visit the five and ten store and the bakery. My grandmother also worked in the bakery for a time. There was a cannon located somewhere in the middle of the square that we use to climb all over. I am looking for some old pictures or information if anyone can respond I would greatly appreciate it.

  7. KENNY sANDIFER

    My husband, a marine, was stationed in Norfolk, Va. at the shipyard. We lived in a two bedroom, upstairs little house. I cannot remember the street name.

    It was a couple of blocks up from the square. At the time the shopping center had a movie, grocery store, beauty shop and I cannot remember what else. We lived there in 1956 – 57.

    I would like some old pictures and information of the neighborhood. We had wonderful times living there and I have often thought of what the town is like now.

    I don’t remember the name of the street we lived on. If you have info please send to me. 1011 Monterey Road, Pearl, MS 39208. I attended the Cradock Baptist Church at the end of the street we lived on. .

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