Monday, April 4, 2016

A to Z April Challenge: C is for Cradock

Genealogists and family historians get a lot of satisfaction from chasing their ancestors’ stories. Finding a diary, a message on a postcard, or a photo with a name attached is like the sun coming out after a storm. One day we will be somebody’s ancestor. We need to leave our descendants a little bit of sunshine too. So here is my story told alphabetically, not chronologically: Growing Up in Cradock.

is for Cradock.

I was not born in Cradock, a community in Portsmouth, Virginia, but it was my mother’s home from the 1940s and the place we returned to not long after Daddy was finished with school at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Cradock was a wonderful place to grow up in the 1950s and 60s. That was a time when neighbors knew neighbors and no one locked their doors. Children played outside and had lots of freedom to explore even after dark. We lived there until 1971 when my parents bought a new house in the up and coming area known as Western Branch in the neighboring city of Chesapeake. Still I regard Cradock as my home although it is difficult to drive through there today. The vibrant community I knew has deteriorated due to age of the homes and buildings, economic woes of residents, and lack of leadership in city government. Revitalization efforts have mixed results.

Photo by Laura Purvis
Cradock is a historic neighborhood built in 1918 to house shipyard workers during World War I since the neighboring city of Portsmouth, Virginia was not equipped to handle the large numbers of workers moving in. It was the first government-funded community in the United States. A little over 300 acres was developed to be a fully self-contained pedestrian neighborhood of 35 blocks surrounding a shopping district close enough for most residents to walk to stores, to school, to church, to the library, to the post office, and to recreation areas. Today that is called “new urbanism.”

Cradock was named for Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock whose fleet was sunk by the Germans in 1914. The street layout is based on an anchor with Gillis Road (where I lived) forming the stock and Afton Parkway forming the shank. The curved part is created by Alden and Dahlgren Avenues. Many of the roads were named for naval heroes.



I’ve put together some “then” and “now” photos of the commercial district of Cradock.

Historic photos
http://rqbing.tripod.com/afton_square_1950s/
It was a short six blocks from my house on Gillis Road to Afton Parkway. At the corner was Reds, a bit of a forerunner to convenience stores where you could get lunch as well as buy light bulbs, cleaning supplies, toys, and candy. I was often scared of this store because boys smoking cigarettes were always hanging around. However, I had to be brave because Reds had the best selection of Barbie doll clothes. Today a Christian outreach operates there, still a gathering place for Cradock residents.

Afton Place is a Christian mission
where Reds used to be
Next door was a hardware store, but I doubt it is still in business. At the opposite corner was a bakery and later a florist. I don’t know what is there now.


Across the street was a dry cleaners (although it was some other business in this older photo) and jeweler. At one time there was an upholsterer.













Now, the stores are home to a real estate management company and other offices.







Moving on up Afton Parkway the road becomes “one way” around a circle. 



The park in the middle was where every summer Holy Angels Catholic Church held its annual bazaar. We went every night. We could play Bingo, enjoy pony rides and carnival rides, play carnival games for cheap prizes, and even have our fortune told. My favorite game was picking a plastic duck out of the “pond” to see if I was a winner – yeah, I’m easily entertained. And cotton candy! COTTON. CANDY. EVERY. DAY. This park remains although not quite as lush as it used to be, but it still sees plenty of action with fall festival and “Come Home to Cradock” activities. That iconic cannon is still there too. I am sure kids climb on it just as we did.

Cannon in Afton Square
Shops and apartments on Afton Square

This part of the shopping strip gives a good view of the “new urbanism” concept with apartments above the stores. On the right was Highs Ice Cream. It was five cents a dip when I was a kid. My friends and I used to find bottles to trade in at the grocery store - 3 cents for small bottles and 5 cents for large ones. On a good day we could get a double dip of ice cream for our efforts.

On the far left corner was Moys. They ran both a Chinese laundry and take-out restaurant. I remember thinking it was such a treat to get chow mein to bring home for dinner. A variety of businesses have come and gone over the years including appliance stores, antique shops, thrift stores, and beauty parlors.

Here’s the bank where I had my little savings account and Christmas club. In recent years a series of restaurants have tried but failed to make it there. The empty lot was once Overtons Supermarket. We did most of our grocery shopping at Colonial Store where my grandmother worked, but if we needed something right away, Momma sent me to Overtons because I could walk there. Supposedly a community garden is there now.



Next to the old bank is the library marking the end of the commercial center and of one-way traffic. Across the street facing Prospect Parkway are the fire station and post office.

Fire station and post office (hidden by the tree)











Coming down Afton in the other direction is – or WAS – the Afton Theater where we spent many Saturday afternoons. Since I wrote about that on A day, I’ll move on. Next door was Halls Drug Store with the best penny candy. Independent real estate offices, property management firms, and tax services have made these old buildings their homes.

Left to right: Halls Drug Store, Afton Theater, Afton Apartments
Down from the Afton, the shop on the corner was a fabric store where Momma was a frequent customer since she made most of our clothes. At one time it was run by her high school friend Bertie Winn Campbell. It is now a convenience store.

The corner store was a fabric shop but now a convenience store.

In the next block was a restaurant and appliance store ending with Chapman's market, a butcher shop. My grandmother sometimes helped out since the Chapmans were old family friends.









Now look at that stretch of Afton Parkway. So depressing. The Bar & Grill with upstairs pool hall are long gone; even the restaurant in business when Google Maps took this picture is closed.








On the curve were the bakery although I have more vivid memories of it being a florist, a grocery, a beauty parlor and another drug store. This was my favorite drug store. Although Halls had good penny candy, this store sold Sixteen magazine and boasted a lunch counter. Today the VFW occupies that spot. I do not know if there are other businesses next door.



This brings us back to the park in Afton Square. The Gazebo (bandstand) has always been the heart of “downtown Cradock.” It was originally on Prospect Parkway but was moved to its current location to be a focal point for community activities.


The bandstand will probably always be important in the hearts of Cradock citizens as a reminder of the Cradock that once was and the hope of what Cradock could be again. 


Count on my comrades at the A to Z April Challenge for clever and creative contrivances.

© 2016, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

32 comments:

  1. Great post, Wendy. Thank you for an in-depth tour of Craddock. My grandfather loved to research his history and after his death a few years ago my family found out some fascintating stuff about him. He was a soldier in WWII and only last year we found out that his experiences of the war appeared in several printed books. We also found a YouTube video of him being interviewed. He'd never shared this with us and we were so taken aback. Naturally, many tears were shed.

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    1. Finding your grandfather in books AND on YouTube is amazing. Tears would be expected, for sure!!

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  2. Thanks for introducing us to the past of Cradock. Its a shame what happens to these old small towns.

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    1. It is indeed a shame. While there are many houses being refurbished and streets are looking more alive than in recent years, the business sector seems not to be able to bounce back.

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  3. Well you had me at the description of the anchor, given the theme of my A to Z blogging. Loved the accounts of the shops and oh yes, what a shame to see it deteriorate so...much of the building design reminded me of Civic in Canberra where I grew up in the 1960s. What is VFW?

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    1. Veterans of Foreign Wars is a non-profit organization that assists military families. They work to secure better benefits and services. And yes, my little Navy-centric hometown plays well with your theme!

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  4. Cotton Candy Every Day! No wonder your parents wanted to move back :) Hard times have certainly hit small town USA all over. So hard to see.
    A to Z post @ https://slfinnell1965.wordpress.com (Katy Trail Creations)

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    1. Thanks for the comment and visit!

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  5. Sounded like a wonderful town to grow up in; sad that it has deteriorated over time, isn't that the truth about a lot of towns like this? It is nice if they can be revitalized; some are successful with it, some are not.

    I like how you looked for bottles to turn in to get a summer treat :)

    betty

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    1. Yes, I think a lot of small towns and communities within large cities are struggling. I guess it's too big a problem to even address in some cases.

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  6. Much of what you described was true of the Detroit neighborhoods where I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s - everything you needed on a regular basis was within walking distance, lots of small businesses etc.

    Finding Eliza

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    1. A walkable community is such a neat thing. Where I live, we can't walk to anything unless you're a marathoner in amazing condition.

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  7. I love the before and after photos - really gives a sense of what has happened in the town.

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    1. Thanks Debi. It is sad looking back on where I lived knowing we had everything we needed right there, and now the residents have so little.

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  8. Great post and theme! It's amazing how much towns change gradually.

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  9. I really enjoyed this tour of the city where you grew up. It's interesting to look back and reminisce, and to see the difference in the then and now pictures. I'm writing about unusual animals or at least unusual to me. Here's my latest. http://gaylwright.blogspot.com/2016/04/c-is-for-cucumber-from-sea.html

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    1. It used to be a really cute place, but the buildings are showing their wear and tear.

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  10. This is really fascinating! I grew up in Virginia myself (Alexandria area) so LOVE reading the history of this amazing state.

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    1. Always good to meet a fellow-Virginian. Thanks for the visit.

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  11. A fascinating, detailed profile of your childhood home. So many small towns here are suffering the same sad fate as Craddock, particularly with the deterioration of their High Street and the loss of shops.

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    1. It's almost like a Catch-22. Shops won't come if the town is dying but the town is dying because there are no shops.

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  12. Fascinating tour of an American town then and now. Thank you! The loss of high street shops happens here in England too, thanks to competition from out-of-town shopping centres and larger towns and cities. (Visiting from AtoZ Challenge)

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    1. Yeah, failure of small towns is far too common worldwide. Thanks for the visit.

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  13. You did an amazing job in showing us all the now and then photos. I love older towns. Can't wait to see what's for letter D.

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    1. Thanks -- I appreciate the compliment. "D" is lightweight.

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  14. I'm impressed by your recall Wendy and love the now and then photos. Amazing how the essence remains so similar.

    @cassmob from
    Family History Across The Seas

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    1. I like comparing the architecture to see what remains of the original. Thanks for stopping by.

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  15. What a wonderful collection of old photos to compare the then and now. Great history with the Anchor and the township layout. Down Memory Lane through Craddock was a perfect post for the Letter C. Well done.
    Sue at CollectInTexas Gal

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    1. I always like being reminded about the layout of the community. When you look at it on Google Maps, though, it's hard to find that anchor! LOL

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  16. Love the old photos of the town! Great memories to share with all of the us.

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